37 Bradford Orville Hand Air Cadet Squadron held its first-ever Christmas Mess Dinner.
More than just a dinner for the squadron, its supporters and special guests, the event at the Bradford Legion on Thursday night was an educational experience that introduced Cadets with the new Squadron to the protocols and etiquette of a formal Mess Dinner.
The Mess Dinner is part of the tradition of the Air Force – encompassing special guests, toasts, as well as good food, in what is described as a “formal but friendly” parade for military members.
Commanding Officer Major Stephen Case explained the protocols, step by step.
Squadron and staff are to remain standing, until the head table is piped in and seated. On Thursday night, the head table consisted of Cadet Ryckman, Capt. R. Case, Officer Cadet Ryckman, Legion Liaison George Neilson, CO Case, Mr. Mazor, and President of the Mess Committee (PMC) Flight Sgt. Haag.
CO Case urged the cadets to learn a poem, just in case they are called upon to lead a prayer – especially the Airman’s Grace: “You share with him the eagle’s view, the right to fly as eagles do, the right to call the clouds his home, and grateful through Your heavens roam. May we assembled in Thy sight, and all who love the thrill of flight, Recall with two-fold gratitude Your gift of wings, Your gift of food.”
He also provided a primer of etiquette, including which fork to use first at a formal dinner.
“Sometimes there’s five glasses, and six forks,” he told the awed cadets. “We’re good here” – with just eco-friendly plastic cutlery, and only two forks. “The outside fork is for the salad.”
While etiquette usually demands that diners wait until everyone is served before starting to eat, that is not the rule at a Mess Dinner, cadets were told. Once the head table and guest speaker start on their meal, begin eating: A Mess Dinner may have up to 1,000 guests.
Napkins are to be placed on the lap, never tucked into the shirt.
Guests at a Mess Dinner are encouraged to talk with the people on either side, but never to shout to someone across the table. Passing messages is permitted, but cadets were warned that it’s “fair game” for someone to intercept and alter a note.
In fact, Air Force Mess Dinners are known for their ‘shenanigans” and pranks, Case said. “Once a dinner starts you cannot leave without permission (from the PMC),” he warned. Anyone who leaves a seat vacant is quite likely to come back to find their chair removed, or replaced by a child’s chair or booster seat.
“You’re going to have to beg forgiveness from the PMC,” Case said. “There’s usually a penalty… The PMC has absolute authority.”
But that authority is vested in the gavel – which means that the shenanigans may include “stealing” the gavel, and then it’s the PMC who has to pay the penalty, by singing or dancing to get it back - “an awesome way to make the PMC squirm,” Major Case noted.
As the CO explained the traditions, parents of cadets served the meal prepared by Tony Garcia of Poleiro Barbecue.
“This is a learning experience for them,” said legionnaire Mike Giovanetti, overseeing the parent team - as well as a celebration of the season, and the start of a new tradition for 37 Bradford Orville Hand Air Cadet Squadron.