CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
With a high operational tempo, frequent personnel turnover, and plenty of work to be done between deployments, one might think Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, would not have time to put a mess night together during the holiday season.
But by overcoming obstacles, CLB-31 hosted one of the most enjoyable traditional mess nights in many of the Marines’ memories Dec. 30.
Cpl. Jennifer L. Harper, a radio operator with the CLB-31 communications platoon, was assigned as the Vice President of the mess, and was identified as being a driving force behind the dining-in success.
“The dining in that Harper organized was one of the best I have seen in my 28 years of service,” said Sgt. Maj. Anthony Goss, CLB-31 sergeant major. “I knew she could step up to the plate and handle it.”
The dining-in is a formal dinner function for members of an organization or unit, and is held to build camaraderie and esprit-de-corps among the members of a unit. The custom of dining in is said to have begun as a custom in monasteries and was adopted by the early universities, and later spread to military units.
“When the sergeant major told me my duties as one of the organizers for the dining-in, I didn’t know what to think because we were in a turnover period between deployments,” said Harper, a 20-year-old Pleasanton, Calif. native. “We had over 200 people rotating in and out of the battalion so I did not know how many Marines would be able to attend.”
More than 250 guests wound up attending the event held at the Palms aboard Camp Hansen, a remarkable feat considering that the battalion is only about 300 Marines strong. Part of the reason so many attended was that both those arriving and departing were able to attend. Additionally, the organizers invited spouses and family members to experience the traditional event.
“I enjoyed being the Madame Vice for the evening,” said Harper. “I like to get people involved.”
According to the Marine Corp’s Manual for Drill and Ceremonies, the Vice President is appointed by the President of the Mess and is affectionately referred to as Mr. Vice or Madame Vice. He or she is the key figure in planning for the dining in. During the dining-in, they discreetly quiet any disturbance, announce or seconds toasts as directed by the President, and prepares a list of offenders and offenses.
“Some of the offenses I found were Marines speaking out of turn, or misbehaving,” said Harper. “As fining started and people started getting called out, the Marines started having fun and joining in, and they enjoyed the esprit-de-corps of the night.”
“I caught someone on their cell phone, and I made their entire platoon come up and do the cupid shuffle in front of the mess,” Harper laughed.
Mess nights provide an occasion for Marines to meet socially at a formal military function. It is also accepted as an excellent time to recognize accomplishments of Marines returning from deployment, or to build relationships in a unit about to deploy.
CLB-31 is in both of those positions, having recently returned from a patrol of the Asia-Pacific region and preparing for the next patrol in early 2011.
“Traditional events like this dining in are important to remind us of what an exceptional organization the Marine Corps is and how special it is to be a Marine. It also builds camaraderie and cohesion within CLB-31," said Lt. Col. William Arick, CLB-31 commanding officer. “Put together by our own Cpl Harper, the dining in was one of the best and most enjoyable events I have ever attended. I am truly honored to be a part of the Marines and Sailors of CLB-31.”
While deployed with CLB-31 and the rest of the 31st MEU, Harper took part in humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations in northern Luzon, Republic of the Philippines after Super Typhoon Megi struck.
“Being on the 31st MEU is awesome. I’ve gotten to do so much, especially on our last float,” said Harper. “Being able to go ashore in the Philippines after a disaster and help people, deliver relief supplies to those in need, and make a difference was a huge thing.”
Harper has plenty of work ahead of her, getting her platoon squared away before the next deployment. She is approaching it with the same motivation with which she organized the dining in.
“The biggest success for me at the dining in was that everyone had a good time and everyone was involved,” Harper commented. “I like being involved, seeing how my Marines are doing, and I did that during the dining in experience. I plan on leading my platoon the same way on our next deployment. I love my platoon.”
Marine Corps customs and traditions are handed down from one generation to the next only through the dedication of Marines such as Harper. And through the high operational tempo of CLB-31, the esprit-de-corps of every Marine in the logistics arm of the 31st MEU remains strong.