military etiquette, military traditions, milspouse, unit functions

How to Survive the Unit Christmas Party

It’s that time of year again. Time for the dreaded company holiday party.  For many of you this is an event that you have not only been wrangled into attending but potentially even contributing to.  This adds another layer dread… Company christmas parties really don’t have to be that terrible.  Dare I say it?  It could even be fun!

I have seen unit christmas parties in a ton of different forms over the years.  The tried and true fall back typically includes some combination of Santa Claus, a bounce house, and pot luck dinner.  Honestly, these are the best ones.  The kids strip off their shoes and run to that bounce house.  It’s like a giant playpen (don’t judge me) and they are safe and contained.  Or as safe as they can be in a bounce house (I have a love hate relationship with those things).  You are then free to load up a plate and mingle with other spouses.  If you’ve listened to me about reaching out to other spouses in the unit to help survive training exercises, you now also have a friendship life raft to hop on in these situations. Now lets breakdown what I just said… you are now kid free, with a hot meal you only had to make a small portion of, sharing a meal with friends…. Ain’t nothing wrong with that!

I know the potluck thing can be a bummer, but for most it’s not a huge commitment and your contribution does not need to be fancy nor do you have to make enough to feed the whole battalion or company!  The idea is that if everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.  Usually a week or 2 before the event a section list will distributed by the FRG Leader with who is responsible for what.  At the Company level, usually each platoon has a different task.  So 1st platoon might have sides, 2nd Platoon desserts, 3rd platoon cups and plates etc.  It’s a pretty good system and usually works out that not only does everyone find something that they like, but with the different cultures mixed together in the unit, you get to try some traditional food that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.  We have one spouse in my husband’s unit that always makes a paella (you by no means have to be that ambitious!) and I gotta say, I’m always super jazzed when she rsvp’s to a potluck!

Sometimes the unit wants to do something “different”.  These are the holiday parties that I am a little more wary of.  They are always great concepts that theoretically should be a lot of fun.  And sometimes they are!!  But sometimes they really, really aren’t.  Usually, these are the ones that are planned by soldiers.  And they have the best intentions in mind.  Prime example: the bowling party.  Free bowling and Santa pictures… How could that go wrong?!  At the company level, most of the children are younger than 1st graders.  That means super short attention spans.  What could be a lot of fun becomes chaos with super human levels of patience required.  I’ve been the mom yelling from the other end of the bowling alley to not pick up the bowling ball, to not put your hand in the ball return, to not run down the lane… and the list goes on.  All while trying to nurse an infant and having no place to put him when he was done because I couldn’t bring the stroller inside. Oh, and they serve beer there.  Soldiers and beer… loud, annoying, and sometimes off-putting.  This sentiment also applies to laser tag and paintball.  So just keep that in mind if any of these types of holiday parties are in the works this year.  Have a game plan, have an infant carrier, have an Ergobaby.  Whatever you gotta do to survive!  Overall, these tend to be the parties that the single soldiers and the couples with no kids enjoy more.  That’s the magic of the military.  Nothing ever satisfies everyone…. but someone is always satisfied!

What was the best holiday party you went to?  What do you wish they did differently?

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military ball, military etiquette, milspouse

What to Remember When Planning for the Ball

Planning Military Ball

Military balls are the most extravagant function that a military unit will put on all year.  For a guest at the ball, it can turn into a logistical nightmare!  Check out the previous post in this blog series, My Best Military Ball Yet, to learn the basics about what a ball is and some of the things you have to think about as a guest.  Now that you’ve figured out exactly what you’re going to wear, let’s figure out how you’re going to get there and where you’re going to stay!

As soon as your spouse comes home and tells you there is a ball, get stoked!  It’s something that can be a lot of fun!!  The second thing you should do is ask what venue it’s at!  This is going to open up a gigantic can of worms that you’re going to have to sort through.  I have been to all sorts of locales.  Everything from the on post convention center to Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans NFL team.

Please keep in mind while reading this blog series that every person is different as is every military couple.  Some of you are hardcore partiers that are going to be shutting the dance floor down and keeping the party going long into the night at a local bar or club.  Others of you will be checking your program to see when the formal portion will be over and whether or not you will be able to sneak out without drawing any attention to yourselves.  These posts are meant to bring things to your attention that you may not have thought about.  By keeping in mind your own personal wants and needs, you’ll be able to take some of my ideas and make them work for you!

If your ball is being held at the on post convention center your life is pretty easy.  Chances are you live within 20 minutes of the venue.  You don’t need a hotel room unless you’re looking for a carefree big event experience.  Transportation is pretty simple.  Either you or your date is the designated driver or you can take a cab/Uber.  If you’ve got children you can get a local babysitter and you very well may already have a tried and true date night sitter on speed dial.  This goes for any venue local to your home.

When the venue is further out, things tend to get more difficult.  For us, this year’s ball was held at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.  At just over an hour from home, it was easy enough to plan but created a lot of questions that needed an answer.  I knew that we would be staying at the ball until the very end.  My husband is serving in a leadership role within the unit and not only played a significant role in the formal portion of the evening, but would be expected to spend time with donors, mingle with soldiers and just act as a major player overall.  Meaning that our ball wasn’t ending until 10 or 11 o’clock at night.  Knowing that my husband would definitely be drinking, I knew I wouldn’t want to drive home at midnight.  So a hotel was definitely necessary.

My mother-in-law came into town to watch our kids and I knew that we would have to do something to make her flight from New Mexico worth it.  I know she did it out of the kindness of her heart and she had a blast with the kids, but seriously…  I couldn’t not have a good weekend planned for her.  So my husband and I decided that we would get 2 hotel rooms for the whole weekend so that we could explore Nashville at Christmas time.  I did research on what activities were happening downtown that would be appropriate for both small children and AARP cardholders (haha).  Most of the activities I found were centered around The Opryland Hotel so I decided to just but the bullet and stay there.  It was well worth it, though it was on the other side of town from the ball venue and no one else was staying there.

The battalion had a block of rooms at a Marriott closer to the football stadium.  90% of the people we knew were staying there.  Part of me felt like we missed out on something by not staying there.  It was definitely the place to be for sharing Ubers, meeting up for a drink, or getting ready together. The hotel was being offered at a discounted rate which made the nightly rate more reasonable than all of the others in the area.  Keep in mind that often these hotels in downtown areas charge a daily rate for parking which can drive the price of the room up steeply!  I know a few people chose to split a room with another couple by upgrading to a 2 room suite.  While it may seem more expensive up front, when divided 2 ways it was even cheaper than getting a basic room!

My husband and I chose to take an Uber/cab.  I knew I wasn’t going to be drinking excessively (I don’t like to in front of his coworkers) but I still wanted the option of having a drink or 2 without feeling guilty.  It was also one less thing for us to think about.  We didn’t have to worry about finding parking at the venue, walking a few blocks in my heels, or finding parking when we got back to the hotel.  And, of course, there was the obvious safety issue.  I avoid any mingling of alcohol and cars at all costs!!  For those of you who are just going to sneak out after the formal portion or know that you are not a drinker, drive!!  It’s in and out without having to wait around for your ride to arrive.  This may also be your only option if your venue is far from home and you are choosing not to get a hotel.  Far cab rides get expensive very quickly!!  After one really expensive cab ride, my husband put his foot down.

What I can’t express enough is to shop around and explore all your options!  The ball can be so much fun but it can also be a massive financial burden.  From the cost of the tickets, a dress, accessories, hair and makeup, hotel, cabs, to the bar tab, it can really rack up.  Fast.  $500 can go by like water through your hand and I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that your ball cost you $1000 or more.  I hope this series gave you some food for thought and that you feel a little more prepared!! If you haven’t checked out the previous posts in the series learn what a military ball is, what some of the customs and traditions of a military ball are and figure out just what to wear!

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attire, military ball, military etiquette, military traditions, milspouse

Dress for Success: Military Ball Edition

thatcrazymilspouse Best Dressed Ball

Welcome to part 3 of My Best Military Ball Yet! Blog Series.  Since I know you’re all faithful readers, you’re up to date on what a military ball is and you’re familiar with the all the ceremonial traditions that take place at one!  If not, well… the links are right there!!  Get to clicking!!

Getting dressed for a military ball is both the most stressful and fun part for me.  I love looking for a gown, designing my over all look and seeing my husband’s face when he first lays eyes on me!

Before you go out shopping it is incredibly important to know what you’re looking for in a dress.  First of all, there is the dress code.  All military balls are formal affairs.  If you look up the regulations it states that it is a white tie event.  That’s as formal as it gets.  Your service member will be in their ASU’s (if they are in the Army) and if they are a field grade officer or higher they will be wearing dress mess.  That is that funny looking tuxedo like jacket with all the swirls and filigree.  Super formal.  So you should dress to match.  Floor length gowns are a must.  I’ve seen people try to do tea length and it just doesn’t work.  Cocktail dresses stick out like a sore thumb.  Those high-low dresses work as long as the long part is definitely floor length.  Floor length, floor length, floor length… Did I mention floor length?!

But what kind of floor length?  What colors?  The sky is the limit on how crazy you want to go!!  Silk, taffeta, embellishments, sequins are all fair game.  Yup, I said it… sequins.  You can wear whatever colors you want!!  I can’t tell you how often wives in my husband’s unit have asked me what the “right” color is.  There is no right color!!  The Army formal uniform is a brightly colored beast.  It’s pretty standard to want to pick a color that doesn’t clash.  There ends up being quite a few blue and red dresses at the ball.  Keep that in mind if you want to stand out!!  Though it is definitely the safe route if you don’t want to make any waves.  Really the only restricting parameter is dressing for your audience.  At the end of the day this is a work function for your spouse.  What impression do you want to give his (or her) boss and coworkers?  This is completely a personal decision, but keep it in mind.  That’s all I’m gunna say about that…

Now where to buy this dress that you now have in mind?  All of the major department stores have evening gown departments.  Another popular route seems to be the bridesmaids dress, so David’s Bridal and other wedding boutiques are worth a gander.  Unfortunately, gowns can tend to be expensive and often the best looking dresses are down right ludicrous!  That’s where my new favorite obsession comes in.  Rent the Runway has totally revolutionized how I dress shop  I have caviar tastes on a beer budget and there is no way that I could talk my husband into investing 500-1000 dollars every year on a dress.  And honestly, I have no business even thinking about it.  But with Rent the Runway, I can rent a beautiful gown usually worth over $600 for as low as $70!!  It’s amazing.  Plus, I don’t have to move a bunch of dresses every time we move because I’m never going to wear them again.  Another rental option is the on post rental service.  This is an extremely affordable option, typically as low as $20!  I know on Fort Campbell it is called the Backdoor Boutique but there is a version of it on every military post.  People donate their gowns to the ACS (Army Community Service) thrift shop and they organize them for rental.  The rental fee covers dry cleaning.  You can find some really great stuff in there.  I’ve personally donated Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Badgley Mischka gowns.  I’ve started my search there several times!!  I definitely recommend anything that helps keep the cost down as you may end up attending one of these events annually.  Or twice a year if you are in a unit that does battalion and brigade balls.  Add a random division ball in there and that is a ton of dresses!!

Next up accessories!!  I suggest investing in a pair of black shoes and a pair of silver shoes.  Make them simple, make them scrappy and have them be a reasonable heel.  Boom!  You now have shoes you can wear with every gown, at every ball, every year.  Same goes for evening clutches.  Every once in a while a dress is going to require a very specific type of purse.  Every other time a black or silver clutch will get the job done.  Once you make those initial investments you won’t have to buy shoes or a purse for a very long time!  As far as jewelry is concerned costume jewelry can go a long way!!  Statement jewelry has gotten so popular these days that its dang near impossible to go shopping anywhere without bumping into a display!  I’ve gotten stuff from Target, Claire’s (‘member that place?!) and even jewelry parties that other spouses have thrown like Lia Sophia and Stella & Dot!  Amazon is also another great option.  If you look around and don’t wait until the last minute I guarantee you can have your jewelry game on point no matter your budget!

Last but not least is hair and makeup.  You have two very obviously options: get a professional to do it or do it yourself.  If you can afford it, go the pro route!  It will add an extra little bit of special to your day.  Everyone likes a little bit of pampering.  It will also take the stress out of your day.  All you have to do is walk out of the salon and step into your gown.  Ain’t nothing wrong with that!!  If you are super confident in your ability to do your hair and makeup, then do it!!  Why spend the money if you know you can make yourself look like a million bucks!  Or maybe you’re just super picky and know that no one will do you up the way that you want it.  If you do decide to do everything yourself but you need some guidance, Pinterest is your friend!!  I’ve always done my own hair and makeup and I Pin the heck out of the looks I’m going after.  You can find amazing tutorials and inspiration on there.  Like everything else, don’t wait until the last minute.  You’ll end up frustrated and unhappy with your finished product.  Take your time, practice, prefect.  You’ll be happy that you did!!

As always, I hope I’ve helped!  Come back soon to learn how you can plan out hotels, transportation and childcare!!

What is the one “must” you learned from attending a military ball?  What else do you have questions about?  Let me know!!

military etiquette, military traditions, milspouse

A Beginners Guide to Military Ball Traditions

Military Ball Traditions

Welcome to the second post in the My Best Military Ball Yet blog series.  If you are looking for a basic run through of what the heck a military ball is, head on over to the first post of my blog series!

At the very basic breakdown of the event there is a cocktail hour, receiving line, posting of the colors, chaplains invocation, toasts, keynote speaker, grog ceremony, awards, retiring of the colors, dinner and dancing.  Whew!  That sounds like a lot when I lay it out like that.  And it is.  But all together it creates a night you’ll be glad you didn’t miss.  The order of the events once everyone gets to their table may vary depending on the unit, but all the parts will be there!

Every military ball begins with a cocktail hour.  There is at least one bar, but usually there are several, typically serving a full bar.  I’ve never been to a ball with an open bar, so bring cash or a credit card if you plan on drinking anything besides the water at your table setting.  There is always a photographer set up taking professional photos of each couple.  We get one every year and I suggest you do, too.  It isn’t often you and your spouse are done up to the nines and this is your best form of proof that it happened.  They are also very affordable.  Knowing that they are providing a service to the military and that there can be up to 500 couples, the photographers are usually very reasonable.  Most of the time they don’t even require you to purchase photo packages.  I’ve become accustomed to paying 10-20 dollars for 1-3 digital images with a photo release.  Cocktail hour is the perfect time to get these pictures taken.  You and your date will still be fresh (aka no sweating or running makeup) and once the festivities are in full swing you won’t want to pause the fun.  If you are drinking, consider getting more than one drink per trip.  The lines at the bars can be incredibly long and the bar shuts down for the formal portion of the evening and sometimes doesn’t reopen for dancing.

Once you’ve had your picture taken and you’ve dropped your drinks off at your table, it’s time for the receiving line.  The receiving line is a time for the traditional hosts of the event to greet their guests and welcome them to the banquet hall.  Who is in the receiving line can vary.  It always includes the Battalion/Brigade Commander and his spouse and his CSM (command sergeant major) and his spouse.  At  Brigade ball it can sometimes include all of the battalion commanders and spouses as well.  When you approach the receiving line the female goes in front of the male.  There will be an aide whose whole job is to take names.  The military member will give the aide your name and in turn the aide will whisper your names to the first member of the receiving line.  Your name will be passed down the line so that everyone knows who you are before you get there.  The members of the receiving line will always greet you first, so no need to be nervous!  A big smile and a polite handshake will get you breezing right on down the line.  If you have a personal relationship with any of the members of the line, it is perfectly fine to engage with them, but you should keep it as brief as possible.  There will be plenty of time to chat later and there are 700 people behind you looking to get through the line and onto dinner.

Usually the receiving line is set up so that once you’ve made it through you may enter the banquet hall.  This is a great time to get more drinks, mingle with friends, and take all those awesome selfies you’re dying to take.  Don’t forget to take photos with decorations or unit insignia that may be around the room.  I always write on the back of the pro photos the date and name of the unit, but a giant unit crest in the background has a sense of immediacy that can’t be denied!!

Once the last person has gone through the receiving line an aide or the S1 will get on stage and ask everyone to take their seats.  Once everyone is seated they will announce the command team.  Once they are seated, it is time for the posting of the colors.

The aide will ask everyone to stand for the flag.  The color guard will enter with The United States Flag, The US Army Flag (or your branch of service), and the Unit/Regimental flag.  Your service member will stand at attention and will pivot his body to follow the flag.  It’s not required for you to follow the flag, but you may feel weird facing an opposite direction as your date so go ahead and follow the flag if you feel like it.  The color guard will then put the flags in a flag stand and exit the room.  Keep looking at the flag!  9 times out of 10 the national anthem will begin playing at this point.  Your date is going to stay standing at attention.  You can just stand there, but it is typical to place your hand over your heart.

The chaplains invocation is a just an opening prayer.  Just an expression of gratitude and a blessing for dinner.  If this isn’t your first military event you are probably used to a chaplain invocation by now.  They tend to be at the beginning of every ceremony or event, no matter how big or small.

Next up is the toasts.  These are always the same and the responses are always printed in the program so don’t worry about not knowing what to do!  Everything from the US Army and the President to the guests and fallen soldiers will be saluted.  Before the integration of sexes in the military there used to be a “To The Ladies!!” toast which was a really nice moment when all the husbands would seat their wives and have a really nice little moment.  They no longer do this, and I gotta say…. I miss it!

The keynote speaker can be anyone.  Usually it is someone of some sort of significance to the unit. Often former commanders who now hold senior or prominent roles in the Army are asked to speak.  Or it could be a soldier who performed an incredible act of valor.  Sometimes it is the brigade or division commander.  It could also just be the current battalion commander.  I know for a lot of people this tends to be the more boring part of the evening.  But like anything else it is just about who is doing it and what story they have to tell.

The grog ceremony is my favorite part of the formal portion of the ball.  It really sets the tone for the evening and gets everyone riled up.  This is NOT a stuffy event.  Grog is, for all intents and purposes, punch.  I say that because once you hear what goes into it you will almost definitely not want a glass.  Grog is made on stage by the company commanders in stages.  Each company commander has a speech prepared about a significant time in the unit’s history.  There is also one or two beverages/items that are associated with that period of time that is added to the Grog bowl.  I’ve seen everything from whisky and water to Copenhagen and dirt added.  The commanders usually get really pumped up and there is a lot of yelling, foot stomping and table pounding as each item gets added to the bowl.  This is the moment when the ball transforms from a standard military function to a party!!  Once the Grog is complete and the commanders have all pounded a glass (yuck!) it’s time for everyone else to get a taste!  The youngest soldier at each table run up to the Grog bowl, fill a pitcher and bring it back to the table.  I have never had a glass of Grog and I plan on keeping that streak alive!  Usually the soldier will bring back 2 pitchers, one of Grog and one of some sort of Sangria like punch.  This last ball I went to there wasn’t a “ladies pitcher” so we all just drank the wine/beer/mixed drinks we already had.

If there are any awards that have been earned that the commander thinks should be given out at the ball, this is the time that it would happen.  This is also a time for any major donors or volunteers to be inducted as honorary members of the unit.  As I’ve gotten more involved within my husband’s unit I’ve taken a bigger interest in the awards portion of the evening.  Mostly because I know the donors or volunteers personally.  But back at my first ball, I just smiled and clapped politely while internally wondering where my food was.  Like anything else, every moment isn’t going to be the most personal and interesting part of the evening.

And that is about it for the formal portion of the evening, which means that it’s time to retire the colors.  This is basically just the posting of the colors in reverse.  Respect that flag and let the party begin!!

At some balls they serve the dinner during the formal portion so that you can eat while watching the awards and ceremony and at some they wait until the formal portion is completed.  Either way, once dinner is complete dancing will start and this is when the fun begins!  For some of you this will be the time when you discreetly sneak out to head home and for others this is the time you will start shaking what your momma gave ya!

If you made it to the end of this extremely long post, thank you! I hope you learned something!!  If you have anything to add that I may have missed or have any questions please leave me a comment below and I will get back to you ASAP!

If you need a basic overview on what the heck a military ball is, check out the first post in this series.  Come back often to see my next post all about finding the perfect outfit for your next ball!!

military etiquette, military traditions, milspouse

My Best Military Ball Yet!!

that crazymilspouse

 

And believe me, I’ve been to more than my fair share of battalion and brigade balls.

I am so happy with how this year’s ball went!  From my dress, to the hotel and childcare, everything went off without a hitch and I would do it all again!

Military balls are the crown jewel of military events.  They are a celebration of a job well done, the anniversary of the forming of the branch of service or the dedication of the unit.  In reality, they are the Super Bowl of social functions, especially for spouses.  The attire is formal, no children are allowed and it is all anyone is talking about for a solid month before and after the event.  There are so many parts to plan, it can make your head spin.

For new spouses planning for a military ball can be daunting.  For my first ball, I was not only concerned with doing everything affordably but I also wanted to make sure everything was done appropriately.  Military etiquette can be a tricky thing to navigate.  Every battalion and brigade commander brings a different vibe and behavior can skew depending on who is running the show that year.

Over the next few days I will be posting about all the different elements of a military ball.  There will be posts on attire, hotel and transportation, and childcare options as well as common military ball traditions and etiquette!!  I look forward to sharing one the best (and most daunting) aspects of military life with you!!

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