One thing we all realize fairly quickly as military families and spouses is that there are hundreds of military acronyms. And more importantly, we need to learn what they stand for, or we risk living in a cloud of mystery. From OER, PCS, to FRG and MOS, the list goes on and on. Like knowing all those acronyms, so does it benefit us, as spouses and loved ones, to learn and understand all the different social events and their meanings and purposes. Especially if we want to truly enjoy and appreciate them.

So, whether a formal invitation arrives in the mail, through an email, or just word of mouth, the social events surrounding military life are both exciting and confusing. For those who live on base or installation this is often a more time consuming obligation. Those who live off base also find these events challenging at times, as they are sprung upon them and often confusing. But, most of us can agree that whatever the circumstances, this can be a confusing at least and stressful at worst. Questions like: what to wear, what will happen at the event, and on and on goes the list. Either way, there is sometimes a lack of understanding that can add to the pressures of military life. And, we already have a lot of pressure as it is! It is our hope that the information in this blog, helps take the mystery out of these events and helps develop a better understanding of each one. So, when the invitation arrives you can attend these events with confidence and excitement. It is also so important to remember that many of these events are fun, full of tradition, and celebratory. And, as time goes on, they will become treasured memories of military life.

Here are the social events we are going to cover:

  • Coffee
  • Teas
  • Hail and Farewell
  • Dining In
  • Dining Out
  • Formal Balls
  • Change of Command Reception
  • Spouse’s Welcome & Farewells

Coffee Okay, I am not talking about meeting up at Starbucks, although I highly encourage getting together with your fellow spouses and friends for coffee at the local coffee shop. Certainly this is always a good way to connect and encourage each other. But, this is the more formal gathering. “Coffee” is typically held at the (Army) Battalion, Brigade or Division levels. This is a time to get acquainted with spouses, provide information, meet and greet new arrivals, and also say good-bye to those leaving. Traditionally is it officers’ spouses and E-7 and above. Although sometimes all ranks are included depending on the event type and size of the unit.

Dress: Usually casual, unless otherwise stated.

Teas: Tap into your English roots (regardless of your heritage) and embrace this event. This is the most formal daytime event. It is typically to honor an incoming or outgoing commander’s spouse or senior NCOs spouse. I would highly recommend doing some tea time research and also do some dining etiquette research before attending. And, I know just the place to help…Etiquette Chics (find us in Facebook and YouTube.) Most likely finger foods will be served as well as cookies and sweets. And, lastly, have those pinky’s ready for your teacup!

Dress: Business dress is most appropriate for this event.

Hail and Farewell (Unit Parties): This is an event that welcomes incoming members and recognizes outgoing ones. Getting to know each other and recognizing others is the main reason for a “hail and farewell.” This is also meant to encourage and build up all involved. Embrace good manners, but at the same time, be social, mingle and have fun.

Dress: Varies in terms of how casual or formal it may be.

Dining In: Whew! Spouses can cross this one of the list. This is an officer and NCO event only. Spouses are not invited to this event. This is the most formal of events that allows the unit to recognize past successes and accomplishments as well as revisit traditions.

Dining Out: Get ready to learn, experience and celebrate with class! “Dining Out” is a “Dining In” version where spouses are invited to attend. It is a celebratory night that allows spouses to experience traditions and those are displayed throughout the evening. There will be posting and retiring of colors. Most likely, there will be a receiving line. Tip: Walk through the receiving line with your hands free of drinks, cell phones, food and other items. Move somewhat quickly, yet politely, meet and address everyone in the receiving line. Also, certainly, brush up on your dining etiquette. You will need it!

Dress: Formal gowns and tuxedos are the dress code for the evening.

Formal Balls: “Formal Balls” are to celebrate a special holiday or event. It is a formal occasion. A receiving lines will be held at the beginning of this event. A toast, dinner and invocation are also usually a part of this evening. The colors will also be posted and retired. Enjoy! This one will hold a special place in your military memory bank!

Dress: Formal attire is required.

Some Extras:

Change of Command Reception: This is held directly after the “Change of Command” ceremony. Spouses/family of both incoming and outgoing commanders may attend this ceremony/reception. Light refreshments and food will be served. Although this does not require formal attire for the family, business casual or casual may be good options.

Spouse’s Farewell/Welcome: There are a lot of factors regarding this particular social event. Often taken into account is how it has been done in the past. This is for senior military personnel in higher commands. What is served, dress attire and the details of this event are typically determined by past ceremonies.

Hopefully, some of the mystery of these events are pulled away and we’ve added some clarity. I have attended events that I felt completely unprepared. That’s not fun! And as time went on, I learned, grew, researched and became more familiar and comfortable. Not everyone can say they’ve been to formal military balls, hail and farewells and dining outs. It’s only in our special community. I also know other branches may have variations of these social events. I personally would love to hear the differences and similarities! But regardless, we have memories that only military spouses and loved ones get to experience. Blue Star Families lead exceptionally challenging, yet exciting lives. It is a roller coaster ride, and these events are the fun part. And, I must confess, I love them. I love the preparation, the excitement and all the traditions. So, learn, enjoy and make those memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.

Written by: © Susan A. Vernick, Etiquette Chics ™


“Basics from the Barracks” U.S. Army War College

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