October 4, 2016 --
Shenanigans ensue at H&S Battalion Mess Night
“This is great, because these are our Marines,” said Gary Munyan, director of food and hospitality for The Clubs at Quantico, surveying the roomful of Marines resplendent in their dress blues dining on their soup course. “We probably do about 30 mess nights a year [at the Clubs] but they’re for the academies and the schools, so for Marines from all over. But these are our Marines.”
Headquarters and Service Battalion held a mess night Sept. 30 for non-commissioned officers and below. Sgt. Elaine Deloney, Manpower Management Officer Assignments, one of the organizers of the mess night, said the battalion may hold one mess night a year, though it depends on “whether the Marines are willing to come together to coordinate it.”
The event was attended by 162 Marines as well as by Sgt. Maj. Charles Williams, Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region- Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCINCR-MCBQ) command sergeant major, and Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green, 18th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, who was the guest of honor.
Mess nights are formal events for members of a Marine Corps unit. They are intended to foster camaraderie and esprit de corps and to give Marines a chance to “reflect on our past and honor our Corps,” as Lance Cpl. Kayla Soles said in the evening’s invocation.
Marines attend “stag,” without spouses or guests. As with many American military traditions, the practice of hosting formal mess nights was adopted from the British, who have held them for their regiments since the 18th century.
“Mess nights are a Marine Corps tradition and they’re a good thing,” Munyan said. “They teach Marines about their history. Getting back to the traditions is one of the things [the sergeant major of the Marine Corps] stresses, now that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing more of them here.”
The H&S Battalion mess night included many time-honored rituals, such as the ceremonial marching in of the mess; the setting of a table for “fallen comrades;” the saying of grace; the tasting of the beef by the President of the Mess (Sgt. Michael Kiehnau), who accordingly found it “fit for human consumption;” and the levying of fines.
Fining is a mess custom in which members of the mess are accused of committing “crimes” and sentenced to punishments by the President of the Mess. Fining started as soon as dinner was served, when Kiehnau fined each member of the mess $1 and sentenced them to drink from the bowl of grog for tasting their wine before the guest of honor. The grog is supposed to be a vile concoction made from drinks not meant to be mixed. At the H&S Battalion mess night, it was covered with a layer of pastel miniature marshmallows and marshmallow Peep ducks.
Lance Cpl. Sergio Griffis, Sgt. Wendolyn Rebollar and Sgt. Jerrico Haynes were fined for shouting over each other and confusing the president. All three were directed to fit into a huge orange “get-along” shirt and take a drink of grog.
Mess night tradition holds that no Marine may leave the dining room to use the restroom. When a Marine must make an emergency head call, it is known as “shedding a tear for Lord Admiral Nelson.” Kiehnau ordered Lance Cpl. Shaquil James to wave a flashlight above his head in a circle and make ambulance noises while running to the bathroom.
While the president of the mess is the nominal host of the evening and the one who sits at the head table entertaining the guest of honor, the vice president, known as “Mr. or Madam Vice,” is truly in control of the event. He or she sits at the back of the room and enacts the president’s orders.
“You make the mess what it is,” said Lance Cpl. Jackeline Linares, Manpower Management Promotions Branch, who served as Madam Vice for the night and was attending her first mess night. She auditioned for the role of vice president along with three other candidates nominated by company representatives. The audition involved reciting a portion of the Toast to Fallen Comrades, traditionally the last of 13 toasts said at the end of a mess night.
“It’s a very emotional toast,” Linares said. She said she wanted to be a part of the evening because it would build camaraderie for the battalion.
She admitted to being a little nervous about her role, but was looking forward to “keeping the tradition going.”