Why 6? Well, in preparation for the 2017 birthday I started with a nice round number of 5. Then as we’ve gotten closer to the 2019 Marine Corps Birthday Ball, I realized I’d forgotten to include the 2007 Birthday Ball so I had to revise things a bit.
Every Marine knows how special the USMC Birthday Ball is. But it can be hard to fully convey its meaning to someone who’s never worn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.
However, if you’re not a Marine but are ever invited to attend a Ball then I STRONGLY recommend that you go. For one, getting that invitation is a sign that someone thinks very highly of you and would probably be insulted if you declined.
And two, you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of the camaraderie and bonds that make the Marine Corps what it is.
Birthday Balls in the Marine Corps vary quite a bit based on location and unit, but they typically share a few common characteristics.
All the Marines and Sailors assigned to a unit (plus their dates, if held stateside) come together in their dress uniforms (once again, if stateside) for an evening of food, drinks, and a ceremony to honor another year in the life of the Marine Corps.
You’ll hear a reading of General Lejeune’s Birthday Message from 1921 followed by an annual message from the current Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
There will be a cake ceremony in which the oldest Marine present receives the first piece of cake (cut with a Mameluke or NCO’s sword) before handing the second piece to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing the transfer of knowledge and traditions from one generation to the next.
You’ll hear from the guest of honor (typically a big-name general or sergeant major) then everyone will get cut loose for dancing and more drinks until the bar runs dry. That happens shockingly fast when you’re dealing with a 1,000-man infantry battalion plus guests.
Once the ballroom runs out of beer everyone still standing will typically rally up and conduct a Movement to Contact to another local bar until it’s ready to close for the night (or call the police).
I was lucky enough to attend the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in a handful of locations from 2000-2012 but a few in particular stand out for me.
In chronological order, they are….
2001 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland
I also attended the 2000 Birthday Ball as a member of the USNA Color Guard but I can’t seem to find any photos at the moment. Anyways, it was pretty cool getting to carry the USMC Battle Colors in Memorial Hall, under the DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP flag and in front of all the Marines on the Yard, our prior enlisted classmates, Marine veterans from the area, and General James Jones, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Can’t complain about getting to take a photo with the Commandant as a 20-year-old knucklehead midshipman….
In the Rotunda at USNA, below the steps up to Memorial Hall
2004 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — The Basic School, Richmond, Virginia
This one was special because it was my first one as a Marine. I had just graduated from USNA about five months prior, and was a little over two months into the Basic Officer Course that’s attended by every new Marine 2ndLt as well as a handful of international officers.
The entire staff and student body from The Basic School trekked south from Quantico to attend the Ball in Richmond, so we had 1,000+ 2ndLts and a few hundred NCOs, SNCOs, and company grade and field grade officers in attendance.
Can’t say I recall who the Guest of Honor was. The sheer size of the event required them to scatter tables in several satellite ballrooms. So we watched the main ceremony and speaker on a projection screen.
Still a good time with the 250 or so officers from my TBS class, many of whom I’d run into again and again over the next 7 years and beyond.
With Juan Rose, one of the guys I’ve known since Day 1 at USNA (also pictured above in the Color Guard shots)
2005 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, Waikiki, Hawaii
My first Birthday Ball with an actual Fleet unit. I’d just taken over 2d Platoon, Lima Company, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines about two weeks prior to the Birthday and we were gearing up to deploy to Iraq in March.
Not surprisingly, an infantry battalion Birthday Ball held in Waikiki and attended by everyone from the most junior private up through colonels and generals turned out to be a lot more fun than one attended primarily by officers, as my 2004 Birthday Ball was.
Me with 4 of the 5 guys from my IOC class who ended up with 3/3, along with one of the Platoon Sergeants from my company.
2006 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, Waikiki, Hawaii
This one was pretty sweet. The battalion had returned from Iraq about a month prior to the Ball, giving all the Marines and Sailors time to adjust back to the real world and take some much-needed leave before the Ball. My platoon was fortunate to suffer zero casualties during the seven-month deployment so we had everyone back with us in one piece.
Given the turnover cycle within a rifle company, this was the last time we’d ever have a majority of the platoon all in one place at one time — guys were getting ready to PCS to other units or begin the process of getting out of the Marine Corps after finishing their enlistment, and I was about to move out of the platoon and up to the company executive officer position.
Great to have everyone back together one more time, but bittersweet to know that we’d never be together in a large group again.
I guess 1/3 of the platoon was the most we were able to get all together at one time. But we’ve got my platoon sergeant, all three squad leaders, both docs, and a few of my best team leaders there, so not bad.
2007 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — OP Delta, Karmah, Iraq
A different kind of Birthday Ball, to be certain. We were about halfway through another seven-month deployment in Karmah, just east of Fallujah in the Al Anbar Province. MNF-W arranged for all the company-sized FOBs to receive makeshift Birthday cakes and enough beer to provide two cans for each Marine who wasn’t on duty.
We managed to rearrange the patrol and post schedules so anyone who wanted a few beers for the Birthday could have them, followed by 6 hours for the alcohol to wear off before they had to stand post. We got a mix of Bud Light, Coors Light, and Guinness cans, and luckily most of the Marines preferred the cheap stuff so I was able to snag a pair of Guinness cans.
Some of the Force Lima boys celebrating the 2007 Birthday with our two (crappy) beer-per-man limit
2010 Marine Corps Birthday Ball — MCRD San Diego, San Diego, California
My final Birthday Ball as an active duty Marine, and also the first MCRD Birthday Ball attended by all ranks. In previous years they hosted an NCO and below Ball, a SNCO Ball, and an Officers’ Ball. See my comments about the 2004 vs. 2005 Ball for my thoughts on Officer-only vs. all ranks Birthday Balls. Kinda sad to know it would be my last “real” Birthday Ball but still a great time.
A handful of the series and company commanders from 2d Recruit Training Battalion
…and look who I ran into since 2/5 was holding their Ball at the same hotel that night. Then-Gunny Charley who was a company gunnery sergeant at the time.
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Well that about wraps it up. What’s the best Birthday Ball you’ve ever attended? Post about it in the comments.