Sunday, May 07, 2006

Intro to the Air Force

I avoided having anything to do with the Air Force for most of the first semester Kirk was involved. It was easy really. He was in the ROTC, not the proper military, so he just wore a uniform once a week and attended a leadership training class. It didn't intrude on my time at all, and I was more than happy with that. I was holding out hope that Kirk would just go into the reserves after graduation; I was trying to ignore that he was showing signs of having found his calling.

So my first real interaction with the Air Force came with the Spring Dining Out. It's a formal dinner - military style. We had never been to a dining out in the army, whether because Kirk didn't want to, or because peon enlisted people weren't invited I don't know, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

For those who aren't familiar, a dining out is a carefully choreographed event with a long history. The whole evening is full of tradition, and the goal of having them for the ROTC was to introduce the cadets to some of the finer points of being in the Air Force.

Dress is formal. Those who have them wear mess dress uniforms - a sort of military version of the tuxedo (sorry, tried to find a good image and only found 'materinity mess dress' which, while interesting, isn't quite applicable), those who don't wear class A's. They even print up a nice program for every seat that outlines the evening's events and details how to respond to each one.

But most important are the Rules:

  1. Thou shalt arrive within 10 minutes of the appointed hour.

  2. Thou shalt make every effort to meet all the guests.

  3. Thou shalt move to the mess when thee hears the chimes and remain
    standing until seated by the President.

  4. Thou shalt not bring cocktails or lighted materials into the mess.

  5. Thou shalt smoke only when the smoking lamp is lit.

  6. Thou shalt participate in all toasts unless thyself or thy group is
    honored with the toast.

  7. Thou shalt not leave the mess while convened.

  8. Thou shalt ensure that thy glass is always charged when toasting.

  9. Thou shalt keep toasts and comments within the limits of good taste
    and mutual respect. Degrading or insulting remarks will be frowned
    upon by the membership. However, good natured needling is ENCOURAGED.

  10. Thou shalt not murder the Queen's English.

  11. Thou shalt always use the proper toasting procedures.

  12. Thou shalt not open the hangar doors.

  13. Thou shalt fall into disrepute with thy peers if the pleats of thy
    cummerbund are not properly faced.

  14. Thou shalt also be painfully regarded if thy clip-on bow tie rides
    at an obvious list. Thou shalt be forgiven, however, if thee also
    rides at a comparable list.

  15. Thou shalt consume thy meal in a manner becoming a gentle person.

  16. Thou shalt not laugh at ridiculously funny comments unless the
    President first shows approval by laughing.

  17. Thou shalt express thy approval by tapping thy spoon on the table.
    Clapping of thy hands will not be tolerated.

  18. Thou shalt not question the decisions of the President.

  19. When the mess adjourns, thou shalt rise and wait for the
    President and guests to leave.

  20. Thou shalt enjoy thyself to the fullest.

(please note, I am NOT responsible for the grammar errors in the thees and thous, I lifted the list from another site in the best tradition of the internet)
If there are rules, naturally enough there is some enforcement. This is not something I was aware of, so I was a bit taken aback when we were shown to our seats in the dining room, and mine was directly in front of a table on which was placed, like a sort of porcelain altar, a toilet.

Now, it was a clean toilet, a gleaming example of plumbing perfection. But it was still a toilet. Right in front of my seat. Apparently Kirk had forgotten to tell me a few things.

The toilet bowl held the grog (well, a steel bowl inside the toilet held the grog). Each class sent up a representative who read out a poem (poor), and added a few items to the bowl. Then they poured in a significant amount of 7-up to dilute the mess, and stirred it up. On this occasion the ingredients included gummy worms, tabasco sauce, clam juice, and a thawed package of frozen strawberries.

The idea is that if anyone violates the rules of the mess, someone else can accuse them of their crime. The accusation has to be done in rhyme, and then the Vice decides if punishment is in order. If so, the following takes place:
The individual proceeds to the bowl promptly, squaring all corners in a military fashion.
Upon arriving at the grog bowl, the violator:

a. Salutes the grog
b. Fills the cup with grog (at least one-third full)
c. Faces about to the mess, raises the cup, and declares “To The Mess!”
d. Drains the grog from the cup without removing it from the lips
e. Tips the cup upside down over his/her head
f. Faces about to the grog, replaces cup, again salutes grog and returns to his/her seat
g. The violator is not permitted to speak during the process except for c. above

Naturally if anything is done wrong, the poor victim has to repeat the whole thing. Oh, and if the accuser's poem is really and truly vile, they are often sent to the grog instead.

It all went fairly well - some poor soul had to demonstrate proper grog procedure, then a few scattered accusations started. But after several people had gone, the liquid was beginning to ebb a little, meaning that they started to have to dip into the chunks at the bottom. So one poor guy was sent up, filled his cup like a man, toasted the mess and as he drained the contents hit a large semi-frozen strawberry. Kirk said he had this horrified sense of dread watching the guy as he struggled, gagging and twitching with repressed heaves. His future Air Force career was riding on this cadet's ability not to spew all over me.

He held it in. Just.


Anonymous said...

The fluffy forest creatures helmet artist clearly was in the wrong branch of the Armed Services.

For Kirk said...

Definitely. A sad loss really.