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General Military Questions

Military Ball: 5 Things You Need to Know

Military balls are steeped in traditions, and if you are not in the know, some of what you see and experience could feel confusing.

Some traditions date back to the Revolutionary War, and they vary depending on the military branch.

Also, it is vital to remember while each branch may have the main ball, these celebrations of the military community take place all over at or near military bases all over the world.

Because these celebrations are so important and full of traditions, it is essential to understand proper etiquette and dress before attending fully.

Military Balls For 2023

ROTC programs hold military balls, as well

Every military branch has a slightly different schedule for its military ball because the traditions differ.

Although, many of the traditional events are similar in nature.

Also, each branch has a different day on which they celebrate.

Army Ball

army ball details

The Army came into existence on June 14, 1775.

Therefore, the Army’s military ball occurs in June of each year as a birthday celebration.

However, even though the Army ball is on its birthday, it is essential to know this event serves to celebrate those who have died serving the Army and build the morale of new soldiers.

The Army celebrates all over the world. Usually, the MWR department arranges the annual celebration.

You can expect to see civilian men in formal black ties and service members in their full-service dress uniforms.

Navy Ball

On October 13 in 1775, the Continental Army established the Navy when the United States needed warships to help during the Revolutionary War.

Every year on (or around) this date, the Navy celebrates with the Navy ball, and the Navy League of the United States hosts the event.

Although you cannot attend the main ball, know that Navy installations worldwide have local events.

The Navy uses the ball as an opportunity to honor the Navy’s inception and show appreciation for Navy culture and heritage.

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Marine Corps Ball

marine corps ball details

The Marine Corps ball is a celebration of the founding of the United States Marine Corps.

In 2023, the Marines celebrate its 248th year in November, when the Marine Corps balls are held across the globe.

The Marines got their start in 1775 when the Continental Army realized it needed to intercept ammunition coming in from Britain during the Revolutionary War.

The resolution on November 10th heralded the creation of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The main Marine ball is often known as the Commandant’s Ball, but Marine installations will host local Marine balls.

The first Marine ball occurred in 1925 in Philadelphia.

Air Force Ball

air force ball details

The Air Force got its start on September 18, 1947, and while the annual ball is not necessarily on that day every year, Air Force installations worldwide celebrate with a formal ball.

Since the local balls’ responsibility falls on the Air Force Association to coordinate, your local base may alternate years to hold the ball in some areas.

Everyone, regardless of rank, is invited, as is local civilian leadership as an opportunity to build and celebrate community relationships.

Coast Guard Ball

coast guard ball details

Like other military branches, the Coast Guard celebrates its heritage annually with a formal military ball.

The galas happen worldwide and include local civilian leaders to build connections with the local communities.

The Coast Guard began on August 4th, 1790, on Alexander Hamilton’s authorization.

While the Coast Guard does not have its ball every year on the same day, it still has a yearly ball in August to celebrate both its communities and heritage.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

receiving line at a military ball

We address frequently asked questions regarding military balls below.

1. Who gets invited to military balls?

A military ball is an opportunity to bring everyone together to celebrate their service and to have some fun at the same time.

Those who serve in the military receive an invitation, and each service member may bring one guest.

Also, the guest can be a date, a spouse, or a girlfriend/boyfriend.

In some cases, local community leaders receive an invite, as well.

2. Is it mandatory to attend Military Balls?

Attendance at the balls may or not be mandatory.

For instance, spouses have no obligation to attend, but some service members are strongly encouraged to attend.

Also, some military branches will require the attendance of service members even if they do not have a date for the evening.

3. What’s the dress code like?

At a military ball, service members wear their Mess Dress or semi-formal uniforms. In some cases, female service members may wear gowns instead, but their commander makes that call.

Also, there are longer skirts for women wearing dress uniforms for formal events. In some cases, women can wear pants with their formal or semi-formal uniforms, which speaks of inclusivity.

A military ball is a formal event, and dresses and uniform skirts should be formal length, which is often to the floor. More recently, however, the length of civilian dresses can go to the knees or just below.

Most formal attire includes darker colors, but feel free to have a pop of color in your formal dress. However, still, be mindful of the formality of the event and do not overdo it.

Also, be conscious of how much skin is showing. Generally speaking, some skin is fine, but too much can take you out of the realm of formal attire rather quickly.

Stay away from casual dresses and stick with the formal section when you shop.

Since you can expect dancing, comfortable shoes are an essential consideration.

Discussions with women with experience attending balls report going for comfort first while still keeping it classy. Although it is worth noting, many women opt for longer dresses to hide less formal shoes.

If you are wearing gloves as part of your formal attire, remember to remove your right glove and hold it in your left hand when you meet people and shake hands. Furthermore, ensure your hands are clean and well-kept.

Men who are guests wear formal attire with darker suits or tuxedos.

4. What about hair and makeup?

Since military balls are formal affairs, do not neglect hair and makeup.

Evening makeup and hair tend to go a little more dramatic, but a formal updo and professional makeup are not required.

Many women stick with well-groomed and subtle at formal events.

One point to remember is there are formal photographs at military balls, so women often gear their makeup to look their best in the photo.

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5. What can you expect to see?

honoring fallen heroes at a military ball

While every military branch has different traditions, some events at a military ball are standard.

For instance, you can expect a receiving line. Usually, the first person you meet is the one being honored. As you move through the line, you shake hands and make introductions.

Try not to get too chatty during the receiving line, as there are plenty of people behind you working through the line.

Consider dropping personal items off at your table before going through the line to avoid the awkwardness of full hands.

There is usually a social hour before the formalities begin. The social hour is an opportunity to visit with those at your table and others in attendance.

Another common occurrence at a military ball is alcohol.

Expect to see people drinking, and try to remember to balance your own alcohol intake with consuming food because you are a representative of either a service member or the military if you are in the service.

As you balance food and alcohol, remember that dinner is often served later in the evening after the formal events unfold. Many embarrassing military ball stories begin with a pre-ball party without food. 

One tradition you are sure to see is the flag coming in and the National Anthem. Be sure to stand and participate in the flag procession. Also, do not leave the room during these formalities if you can avoid it.

When in doubt, pay attention to what others do. For instance, if people begin to stand, this is an excellent time for you to get on your feet.

Also, military balls have keynote speakers, and it is customary to remain silent during their speech delivery.

Honoring fallen heroes

You may also notice a fallen soldier’s table at a military ball, as one is customary out of respect.

This is also called the “missing man” or “fallen comrade” table, and it is set to honor those who should be there: POWs, deceased, or missing in action.

You’ll find one of these at every formal military gathering, such as military balls or dining-in/dining-outs. You’ll find a missing man table at such functions in every branch of the U.S. Armed Services.

The table is set for one, with a single chair. The table features a white tablecloth, a single candle, an upturned glass, and sometimes a Bible or prayer book. You’ll also see a single red rose in a vase tied with a yellow ribbon.

On the table is a plate with a lemon and a small bit of salt. The candle is lit to symbolize the enduring hope that missing soldiers will be returned.

During the proceedings, it’s customary for attention to fall on the table while a moment of silence is observed.

After the formalities and dinner, you can expect a beautiful birthday cake since the event often celebrates the military branches’ birthdays.

Also, expect dancing and fun.


Every year, the military branches host a formal gala referred to as a military ball.

In some cases, the balls are to celebrate the branch’s birthday, but not always.

In all cases, the ball is an opportunity for service members to honor and celebrate their military heritage.

Also, in other cases, the ball will include local civilian leaders.

The military balls are formal events with traditions observed each year.

Attendance at military balls is mandatory in some cases, and those who attend must be mindful of the dress code expectations.

Service members wear formal military attire while guests dress in formal wear.

During the ball, guests and service members observe traditions such as a receiving line, social time, observance of the flag, and honoring fallen heroes.

For sure, those in attendance have a great time while building community relationships.


Rob V.
Military Ball

Military Ball

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Learn more about what to expect at the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard balls, including what to wear / how to dress, how to act, what to expect, and more.
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