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Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Mess night: a toast to tradition

By | | December 19, 2003

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- It's part tradition and part ribaldry. Throw in a little bit of dare, heaps of humor and let it simmer with the somber remembrance of fallen brethren. It's a strange brew Marines call -- mess night.Camp Pendleton's Staff Noncommissioned Officers' Academy Career Course 1-04 recently hosted a mess night, a traditional meal shared by Marine NCOs and officers since the first Marines attended a British Mess Night as guests in Shanghai, China in the 1920's."It's a wonderful tradition that allows us to come together and share in an important part of our heritage as Marines," said Staff Sgt. Wilfredo I. RiosGonzalez of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 39.The mess night thrives on camaraderie, but ultimately lives for discipline. Marines show up in their most formal uniforms not with a date on their arm, but with their brothers and sisters of the Corps beside them.The order is then given and everyone gets in their spots to make their formal entrance. One by one, Marines march in line to their seats at the mess and stand at attention. The room slowly fills with Marines standing proud next to their own.Once all the mess members are behind their chairs, the head table guests march in. Much like the Corps' birthday cake-cutting ceremony the senior and junior Marine play a vital role. The junior Marine, known as Mr. Vice, controls much of the night. If members of the mess want to do just about anything they must first stand and ask permission to speak to the president of the mess."President of the mess, what say you?" asks Mr.Vice.The president can either grant that wish or deny it.During the meal, members of the mess have the opportunity to fine their fellow Marines, a practice highly encouraged by the president. Fines are not demeaning, but rather humors picks and prods against another member of the mess.Members fine each other for "uniform discrepancies," personal quirks or just about anything to call another on the carpet. The president then sees both sides and makes his decision for punishment. Punishments range from small monetary fines to being forced to, say ... performing YMCA renditions in front of the members of the mess.Still, camaraderie is the heart of the mess night, said Gunnery Sgt. Leroy K. Cook, chief instructor at the Career Course."It's a night to be humorous together," he said. "It's where all the warriors get together. I consider mess night to be like the Knight's of the Round Table."Cook said now is the perfect time for units to hold mess nights for their commands."We just made history with Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said. "This is a good opportunity to talk about that and appreciate it. The whole unit comes together not on a operational level but rather a social level."In fact one of the rules of the mess is that members of the mess not talk about shop, religion, politics or money.The conclusion of the night is the most time-honored tradition -- the toasts.In all, there are 12 traditional toasts at the mess night. These toasts reflect on those Marines that have fought our historic battles, died in service and always end with a momentous toast to the success of the Marine Corps and a long life to it.Members of the Career Course Mess Night stressed the importance of having mess nights in commands."By not holding mess nights, you are ignoring an important tool toward bringing morale up in your command," RiosGonzalez said. "It's an excellent way to pass on to younger Marines the pride felt toward the Marines that have come before us."

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