Why Do Marines Need Such big Balls?

Ok, I know we have all had this complaint, but I haven’t heard or read any really high-quality, nostril-flaring rants about it, so I’m going to give it a rip.

We all know that the marine dress blue uniform has exactly three purposes:

1) To be worn on television commercials.

2) To be worn to the USMC birthday ball.

3) To be worn by the Silent Drill Team (a purpose stunningly similar to item 1)

Whereas the USMC birthday ball has only one purpose: to give marines who aren’t a member of the Silent Drill Team a chance to wear those shiny dress blues.

I can’t speak for how much a set of dress blues cost nowadays, but when I last owned a set (let’s just say there were still two towers in NYC, so my memory may be a little faded) the jacket was around $200. Of course that was just a jacket, and it had the crappiest brass buttons you could imagine. If you wanted nice ones those ran around $100 a set. Let’s not forget that this came without the chicken/ball/hooks, for another $10. Gloves, white belt, buckle appropriate to your rank, special red/gold chevrons and you’re in for another $100 or so. You have now blown an entire paycheck on a jacket.

Unless of course you had had actual medals, and wanted to wear those, instead of ribbons. Of course, you weren’t issued anodized medals, so you’ll need to pick those up at $25-$50 apiece, depending on which ones they were.

So, if I wanted a set of dress blues, I would have been out around $400 ($600 with my medals) for the sole purpose of paying another $80 (or the bargain price of $150 for a pair) to attend a ‘voluntary’ function.

I doubt I am alone in saying that, apart from threats and intimidation, many marines would elect not to attend this farce. As most know, torment awaits those who don’t attend the ball, most times. In my personal opinion, telling me that attending is voluntary, but I will spend the entire time on a working party cleaning up the messes left by the drunken revelers if I don’t go, doesn’t count as voluntary. If you have to have sentries standing outside to make sure I don’t leave before the appointed time, it’s not a voluntary function. Just tell me it’s mandatory, rather than insulting my intelligence by making up some song and dance about how I had a choice. (By that logic the prisoners at Leavenworth have a choice, they can stay ‘voluntarily’ or be shot trying to leave.)

My unit in San Diego was enormous. Large enough that there were precious few facilities large enough to accommodate an enormous horde by the time all the marines brought their wives/husbands/girlfriends/boyfriends along. As a result, ball attendance those three years wasn’t that unique brand of voluntary and compulsory that it was in my other two service years, you just didn’t get the half day off the day of the ball, and the next day off. (Of course, it was widely whispered that your marks or fit-reps would reflect your absence, but I never saw any evidence of this)

This was the best part of ball season, as far as I was concerned. I got to sit at the barracks, watch the drunken sword fights (participate in a few) show up at work the next day, hang out with my people (the angry, disgruntled and unmotivated), answer phones and go home to mess with everyone just waking up with a massive hangover. We were allowed to do this because there were flight operations to support, and someone had to be there in case a flying squadron needed something.

One year, the ball was in Laughlin, Nevada at a low-budget casino/resort with a campground across the street. Now, as an added bonus, we got to pay for a hotel room as part of our ball ticket, and a bus would be provided if we didn’t want to drive. We would not be allowed into the casino, nor to drink outside of the ball area. Additionally, if we weren’t bringing a date (enabling us to pay for both beds in the room) the command did not have the time or the inclination to take room requests, so you might have ended up paired with someone you truly hated. Sounds like a blast doesn’t it?

Now that we have been duly threatened, and spent a month’s pay on our uniform and tickets, we finally get to go to the ball itself. This should be a decent experience, shouldn’t it? Hang out with your pals, have a few drinks, maybe even make fun of all the ugly, fat dependapotamus herds slowly making the rounds of the dance floor, while yelling at the boots for ‘leering’ at them.

Not so fast, my friend. You now get to spend upwards of an hour listening to speeches from your CO (who obviously didn’t get his job for his public speaking skills), the SgtMaj, and that grizzled old warrant officer that every unit has, who has been in since the ‘shores of tripoli’ line was written, and has a social security number of 17. After all this, we get to eat our $80 piece of dry, lukewarm chicken and wilted salad, before listening to another speech from CWO-4 leatherbrains before he cuts a cake, making sure to allow all the officers to get a picture of it.

After the cake has been passed out, now we can get to the fun, right?

Hold on, devil nuts.

That beer that you’ve been rubbing your head and wishing you could have all night? Get in line. 1000 other guys have been begging for the same beer, and were inevitably closer to the bar than you. On top of that, your date wants a drink, and you may have a one-drink-at-a-time limit to discourage abuses at the ball (just for E5 and below, of course).

After several minutes of being pressed like a gabardine ham, you make your way back to your table, carrying two drinks, to find your date being systematically stalked by your superiors. They have somehow been drinking heavily all evening, and are frustrated with the red-faced rhino-beast at their table, so they want to take a crack at the girl you brought. You are forced to laugh at their jokes, and try to find a remotely courteous way to get her out of there, before Gunny’s eyeballs actually pop from his head and land in her décolletage.

After enduring three to four hours of this siege, largely spent apologizing profusely to the young lady who ‘thought it would be fun’ to go to the ball, you make a run for it, and are stopped at the door by the bootenant that the old man has cleverly placed in the smoking area to ‘discourage’ early departures. If you have a particularly clever girlfriend (which I did – once) she makes some remark about how badly she needs you to help her out of her dress once you get her home <wink> and the butter-barred door guard will let you go.

So now, still hungry, broke and wandering the streets in a dress blue uniform dragging along a young lady in an evening dress, you have to either find a cab (if you could afford more than one drink) or whatever means you arrived at the ball. If it was that bus, you’re still fucked. It’s not leaving until the old man is too drunk to prevent it.

Admittedly, sometimes this is the fun part. As you leave the ball, you wander around downtown, go to a couple of places, maybe even hit an In-N-Out Burger in dress blues, wearing a sword. Most of the time, you’re exhausted, let down, and just want to go home.

And the officers will spend the entire next year sitting around and wondering why they have to force you to go to this thing.

Submitted by: Billiam201

  • Guest

    LOL. We were told in boot camp that it was mandatory to bring a date to the ball, or else it was an NJP. Now for those of us (like myself) who actually do well with long distance relationships and only have relationships with women who are from foreign countries, AND happen to be fiercely loyal to those they love, how the fuck was that supposed to work? Especially when her budget and schedule wouldn’t even allow her to venture out of her small, former East Bloc country for the weekend. Luckily I didn’t have to really worry about that. Thank you administrative discharge! Looking back on it, I don’t know if I would’ve really gotten an NJP or if that was just them lying to us…again. But who cares at this point

  • R.E.M.F.

    Marine Corps “balls.” Such a useless exercise in B.S. When I was in the SUCK, I got a free issue of dress blues. Don’t know how that happened… hummmmm… but it did.

    Oh, PHuck the SUCK. Dis-band the Marine Corps. Put all those psychopaths in the nut house!!!

  • Older

    Interesting article. whether you love or hate the Marine Corps Ball is an indication of how much you love ( or hate) the Marine Corps in general.

    Giving a former LT perspective, the Ball can be just as much as an aggravating and annoying experience, but I understand fully that for junior enlisted ( who have so many excessive rules imposed on them) that it just destroys any enjoyment they may get out of the event.

    You’ve touched on a few key points- most notably is the fact that the USMC has too many types of uniforms its demands its people maintain. In the early 90’s we were issued them “for free” ( in boot camp the way your pay was structured you end up paying for them one way or another). For what they cost and how much the accessories are, its not cost effective to only wear them once or twice a year!!

    If your an Officer, the amount of extra Dress bullshit gets a lot worse. If you enlisted hate Officers because our paychecks are bigger, I can say that paycheck gets whittled down when some CO or General decides he wants to have major politicking (ass kissing) formal gathering, then make it mandatory that Marines wear a more obscure variation of dress uniform!

    In regard to the Ball, I never ever volunteered or wanted to be part of the Ball committee, partly because I knew what most junior Marines thought of it. The yearly CAR WASHES just started to get on my nerves- especially when you worked as a Fiscal Officer you saw how the Marine Corps could throw money away on poor business practices then make their Marines scrounge for money for a superficial yearly social event!

    The idea of the Ball isn’t bad- its just that it morphed into an event where they can impose too many petty regulations, and from a LT on up perspective its almost pathetic how some Officers turn it into a night long career enhancement session.

    From reading experiences of former Marines here, it sounds like the petty rules have gotten a lot worse. Two Balls I went to I stayed till all the formalities were over with, then went straight to the exit, got out of uniform, and had told my enlisted guys that if they WANTED TO, we could have a few more drinks at a nearby bar where they could be a lot more relaxed. Some went for it, some didn’t, but it wasn’t forced upon them.

    My two cents worth to try and reverse the Marine Corps Ball from being such the aggravating experience its is:

    1) Do a complete Uniform review and eliminate the excess variants of Dress Uniforms, conscious of the fact of how much a PFC gets paid and what type of ‘utility’ they will get out of their investment.

    2) By all means have a Ball, but don’t make it a yearly event! No reason why the Marine Corps birthday can’t be celebrated with a quick formation, cake cutting ceremony, then a special celebratory lunch at the chow hall (Surf and Turf). Have a formal Ball say every 2 or three years when there is sufficient unit funds saved to make the ticket, meal and accommodation price more attractive.

    3)It would be wishful thinking that each Marine Unit pull in the reigns of how many petty, punitive and restrictive rules they impose on their people to take away any enjoyment they might get out of going to a Ball, but that might be asking too much given the mindsets of those who stick around in the USMC for long periods.

    Lastly, this article reminded me of a unique Ball experience I had one year. It was the Ball where I met R Lee Ermey, but was “strongly coerced” by a CO of a MALS unit to accept his choice of ‘date’. I like girls, but after spending some time in southern California I was really pissed off at all the snotty, arrogant and rude women I saw there, so when I met this ‘date’ she wasn’t bad looking, but when she wanted me to buy her drinks I indirectly told her to ‘F.. off’, generally ignored her, then left at the earliest possible time leaving her to herself. Other Marines would have chaperoned this ‘lady’ , but she was more interested in ranks that made bigger paychecks! Had a better time at a nearby civilian bar with some enlisted, where we dropped all the absurd formalities and enjoyed some sea stories.

    The more memorable part is the private ass chewing I got from the CO days afterward, but I ended up flat out telling him that I wasn’t into the social bullshit game he was forcing upon me, nor into women that want to play the shiny rank circle.
    Needless to say, if your not a good politician don’t expect to wear much silver.