The Marine Corps ball, November 2003, the last time I wore the uniform. With Marine nostalgia season fast approaching I offer this question to all currently serving Marines, are you prepared to miss it? I say Marine nostalgia season as the Marine Corps is doubly blessed in November to have Veteran’s day and the Marine Corps Birthday come back to back. For us Veterans not currently serving, it’s like Christmas come early.
When I say the Uniform, you know which one I mean. The one that that led half of us to join the Marine Corps to begin with, the Dress Blues. Sure the collar can get a little tight and the top gives you the arm reach of a T-Rex, but there is nothing more noticeable to the world like a Marine in dress blues.
My last experience wearing it was even more fitting as having just returned from Iraq, I actually had a little bling on my chest. Moreover, this ball in 2003 represented the end of my Marine Corps career. Having been a reservist who joined in 1997, the end of my 6 year active drilling contract was set to end two months after we were activated for Iraq. So upon returning from Iraq, my time was up.
Truthfully, it didn’t really set in that this would be my last time officially wearing the uniform, and had it, I think I would have savored the moment just a little longer. This was the end of a pivotal phase of my life and I had no idea the nostalgia that awaited me on the other side.
If I remember correctly, we Marines have been known to complain about a thing or two. In fact the saying goes if Marines are not complaining then something must be wrong. Many Marines as they approach the end of their contracts have been counting down to their EAS and with only the negative experiences in mind, cannot wait to end this chapter. And this is where it gets interesting.
You will never meet a more ooh rah, motivated, and proud Marine, than the Marine Veteran. That’s right, some strange transformation takes place after you separate where all the complaints you had about Marine life get transformed into Marine Corps bumper stickers, flags, and motivated Facebook posts. The truth is, you will miss the experience even if you don’t realize it yet. So are you ready?
In this era of the Marine Corps, the danger of being unprepared for this is real. We are a combat tested Corps whose experience has been framed within the context of war, not peacetime. You will find as you exit, a strange longing for the experiences that most in the world would consider miserable.You will miss the brotherhood and little by little, all the gripes start turning into Ooh Rah. Welcome to the club.
The Final Ball
Now, I know that once a Marine always a Marine and I claim the title of Marine proudly. You can always attend a Marine Corps ball as a vet, but there is just something about that last time you wore the uniform as an active Marine.So if this upcoming ball will be your last, I ask you, are you ready for that?
The traditions on display during the ball will represent the very things that make life as a Marine Veteran unique from all the other branches. It is these types of traditions that you will hold on to and before you know it, you will miss every single one of them. You’ll miss the drinks, the fellowship, and the experience.
So my recommendation would be start planning now. If this is you last active Marine Corps ball, get ready to enjoy it with special fervor. Proudly display your stack of ribbons and look confusingly at the boot with just a National Defense Ribbon. You know they are a little disgruntled they missed the bulk of deployments. So if you are a tall Veteran, go stand next to a short boot so your stacks are in his face.
Enjoy it all because before you know it, those Dress Blues won’t fit anymore. I’m convinced mine have somehow shrunken while sitting the closet, but either way, they don’t quite fit like they used to. If you still can’t get in the moment to enjoy, think not to the salty vet that you are, but think to recruit days. You know you couldn’t wait to get those blues, so wear them proudly this one last time.
I say even go out in public one last time and let the world enjoy seeing their Marines in Blues as well. They love it. But in either case, ask yourself if your ready, because before you know it, you’ll be the ooh rah motivated veteran longing for days of past.
Jeff Edwards served with the Marine Corps Reserves as an Infrantryman with Kilo Co. 3rd Battalion 23rd Marines from 1997 to 2003. 3/23 was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and served primarily in the Wasit Province of Iraq. Since exiting, Jeff has served as a non-profit manager in the area of foster care and adoption. He also writes for the blog Unprecedented Mediocrity.