The Joy of Parades and Mess Dinners

Air Force Mess Kit
It’s hard to explain mess dinners (for those who don’t know, messes are the place where troops eat) and parades to people, because for many civilians, they simply cannot understand the ritual. Well, I have to tell you, you are not alone. I don’t always understand them either and I’ve been in the military for 7 years. A big reasoning behind mess dinners is that they are meant to boost morale, enhance comradeship, and give people a chance to unwind and relax together instead of always talking “shop”. You sit and have dinner and then there is some joking back and forth, a few toasts and speeches, and that about sums it up. It should also be pointed out that the army, navy, and air force all have their own “rules” that have to be obeyed and many of the rules are downright bizarre. Before our mess dinner last week, an email went out to the unit explaining all the Navy traditions, as this dinner was being run by a Naval Officer and any infractions of said rules can be punished (I use this word jokingly, as they’re aren’t any real punishments except for perhaps embarrassment when you are singled out in front of 100 people for breaking the rules!). I read the list of regulations and couldn’t help but giggle once in a while. For example, members may not be excused from the meal, even if they have to go to the bathroom, until the “President” of the dinner gives you permission. Hmm. This rule already has me nervous because I know that wine and port are served during the meal, there is a precursor cocktail hour and to top it all off, I have the bladder the size of  a dust particle. Another glorious rule is that you cannot write or read anything (except the menu) until dinner is over. I know, it sounds weird. I don’t get it either. Furthermore, because I am the youngest person in my unit at the age of 26, I had to give a toast in front of all 100 attendees. This is just a sampling of the evening we had ahead. Anyways, so three days before the dinner, we discover that the air conditioning in the mess is broken and so it’s going to be 35 degrees (40 or so with the humidex) and our Mess Kit uniforms are made of wool and polyester. And we all know that no one is ever cool and comfortable when wearing polyester. Not to mention, there is a jacket, a shirt, a cummerbund, a skirt (pants for the men thank goodness) and the worst infraction of all…pantyhose. Below is a photo of me in my mess kit…try not to judge…it was the end of the evening and I’m pretty sure I had melted into a puddle at that point. And yes, it is me but I’ve recently turned back to the world of brunettes. The fact that I am sharing this image with the readers is just a symbol of my dedication to the blog!

Air Force Mess Kit

The dinner was, as anticipated, very hot. I did not pee before dinner was over (mostly because I purposely didn’t drink a THING all evening until dinner was over!), I did not write to anyone while at the table, and I did not read anything except the menu. But after 4 hours (honestly) of eating, joking, toasting and sweating, I had officially had enough. One more toast and I might have had to slink out of the room on my hands and knees in search of a fan. No word of a lie, I considered it. Often. The following day, we had a very, very hot day in our dress uniforms along with a 1 hour parade in yet another building lacking air conditioning. It was what they call a Change of Command ceremony, held in honour of my current boss handing over command of our unit to our new boss. Not only does this mean a different boss but it also means change is ahead in the way things are run, as inevitably, each boss has their own way of doing business.  I’ve always liked parades but many others do not. There is something about the ritual that is comforting, cathartic even. The military is full of lots of instability but there are a lot of things you can count on and parades are one of them. They will always be a constant in the Forces and I find that the longer I serve, the more proud I feel to salute when “O Canada” plays and the more interested I am in the symbology behind a handover parade. But I have to tell you, an hour later of standing at attention, I was praying for it to end. I could quite literally wring liquid out my shirt when I got home. Not a nice mental image but this is uniformed life! Ha. This entry is not one of my most emotional and touching posts, but sometimes, we just laugh, have fun, and sweat! Kelly