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What Is a Military Ball?

A military ball can seem like a mysterious event, especially for those who have never attended one. After receiving an invitation to a military ball, you may not know what to wear or what to expect. So, what is a military ball?

A military ball is a formal event held by various branches of the military. Most military balls include traditions and ceremonies with strict procedures. However, balls are also considered a time for service members to relax and celebrate their service. 

When Is the Military Ball?

Military balls are held at different times throughout the year. Some branches of the US armed forces hold their balls to coincide with the branch’s birthday:

  • Army – June 14 
  • Navy – October 13 
  • Marine Corps – November 10 

For example, the US Army holds its military ball on June 14 of each year, as the Army was established on June 14, 1775. The US Navy holds a ball on October 13 to commemorate the date that the Continental Army established the Navy. November 10 marks the founding of the US Marine Corps.

The US Air Force and Coast Guard also hold annual balls, but the events do not always land on the same day each year. 

Each branch of the US armed forces holds a separate annual military ball. However, additional balls are held throughout the year at military bases and installations throughout the globe.

What Is a Military Ball Like?

A military ball is a formal event and typically involves many traditions. Most branches of the US armed forces began holding balls over 200 years ago and continue to uphold established traditions, such as various ceremonies.

For example, many military balls start with a cocktail hour. Attendees can chat and mingle as everyone arrives. After the cocktail hour, the event becomes more formal.

Most military balls include a receiving line. Attendees get in line and shake hands with honored guests, which typically includes the highest-ranking officers on the base. Civilian leaders, such as politicians, may also be invited as honored guests.

After the receiving line, guests find their dinner table and wait for their meals. Many military balls include ceremonious activities after the guests are seated. 

For example, at Army balls, the color guard posts the colors before the national anthem is sung. The Army chaplain then says a prayer. At the end of the prayer, everyone can start eating.

After dinner, most military balls include dancing, music, and drinks. The formality of the latter half of the ball varies. Some military balls include DJs, strobe lights, and dance music. Others include traditional music played by members of the military band.

Monterey Army Birthday Ball 2018
CC0 Monterey Army Birthday Ball 2018

Who Gets Invited to Military Balls?

Active-duty service members receive an invitation to the military ball held by their unit. Military balls are not typically mandatory, but attendance is strongly encouraged.

For example, Marines who skip the Marine Corps Ball may receive unsavory work details. 

Service members who are eligible to attend the ball are also allowed to invite one guest. However, some units provide flexibility with this rule. For example, a soldier may be able to invite both parents to a ball but is unlikely to receive approval to bring two dates.

What Do Females Wear to a Military Ball?

Male and female soldiers wear their full-service dress to the military balls. A full-dress uniform is a formal uniform that is typically worn by soldiers for everyday office and non-field duty purposes, along with ceremonial occasions.

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As military balls are formal events, female guests are required to dress in formal gowns. Most females wear knee-length or floor-length gowns with minimal detailing or accessories. Short dresses and outfits that reveal cleavage are typically frowned upon. 

Can You Hold Hands in Uniform?

Military personnel are not allowed to hold hands while in uniform. Service members must keep their right hand empty, allowing them to salute at any time. Some units may allow soldiers to lock elbows when escorting a guest or spouse. 

Can Soldiers Drink During a Military Ball?

Yes, soldiers can drink during a military ball. Most military balls have a cocktail hour before the proceedings and an open cash bar for after dinner. It is not uncommon for attendees to become intoxicated during the evening. 

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