Ball season time for etiquette

28 Oct 2002 | Sgt. Pamela A. Kershaw

"There's always one, especially when it comes to Marine Corps Birthday Balls," said Sgt. Jamie M. Gambill.

"There's always one Marine who shows up halfway through the ceremony disturbing the traditions and solemnity it represents. There's always one Marine who has a little too much liquid courage and starts the drunken brawl outside. There's always one who doesn't understand why the uniform he wears matters so much to the retired guest speaker, whose limp is a symbol of service to the Corps," Gambill continued.

So as preparations begin for the Corps' 227th birthday celebration, Gambill, a 26-year-old squad leader with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, is teaching his junior Marines about proper etiquette for this year's event.

Along with uniform inspections, he is tutoring his new privates in the history of the ball and what to expect from the ceremony.

"I don't want to tell them too much, because it is a personal thing. The cutting of the cake should be special when you see it for the first time," said the Orlando, Fla., native.

After 28 years of celebrating the birthday, Sgt. Maj. Brian K. Pensak, Marine Corps Base sergeant major, said he feels problems occur due to lack of understanding.

"The Marine Corps birthday ball is probably the most formal social occasion Marines celebrate. At the same time, it's an opportunity for Marines to relax and enjoy each other's company," said the Encino, Calif., native. "I think what causes most Marines a problem is not understanding when it is appropriate to do one or the other."

While Pensak said he knows there are portions of the ceremony where it is acceptable to express motivation and enthusiasm, he feels Marines should venerate the ceremony's traditions and pride they are witnessing.

"There is a point when we should be remembering all the Marines who have gone before us for 227 years. That is a time to reflect, and then there is our time to party," said Pensak.

The sergeant major said he has his share of humorous situations from previous balls he has attended. While inappropriate behavior should be frowned upon, he still chuckles when recollecting stories.

"I think the funniest thing I ever saw at a Marine Corps birthday ball was when a young lieutenant walked on to the dance floor right after the guest of honor's speech and impromptu proposed to his fiancée. Most of us found it rather humorous, but the commanding officer of the unit was a little bit annoyed because it wasn't in the script," he explained.

Sergeant Greg Thomas, A Company, MCB, knows all about inappropriate behavior during a ball. While attending one at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island he remembers an English bulldog named "Iron Mike." As the depot mascot, Mike participated in the ceremony before sitting underneath the table next to his handler. As the ceremony continued, Mike snuggled his hind quarters against the legs of Thomas's wife, Mary, and loudly "let one rip." The Ft. Myers Beach, Fla., Marine said he can never hear General John A. Lejeune's birthday message without chuckling and recollecting the moment.

Pensak said he encourages everyone to attend his or her birthday ball celebration.

"The Marine Corps ball is as fun as you make it," said Pensak. "This could be the only ball you get to go to, so don't let the opportunity pass you by."