MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
The Marines marched in the dining room somberly and took places behind their seats, awaiting the order to sit. When the order was given, one found it hard to sit in his “specially designed” chair; and others found eating their salad difficult with their forks glued together. With more booby traps set below, on and over the tables, the mess night was only just beginning.
The Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Marine Unit Cherry Point held a mess night at Miller’s Landing aboard MCAS Cherry Point March 23 for bonding through good-natured humor. Jokes included tampering with the commanding officer’s beef, making it so spicy it was virtually inedible; and dropping a fake spider into the lap of a staff noncommissioned officer that’s arachnophobic, and requiring some Marines to wear a Viking helmet.
“Shenanigans are part of the tradition,” said Lt. Col. Paul M. Melchior, the commanding officer of CNATT at Cherry Point. “Back when they first started the mess nights, it was a chance for the commanders and the officers and everyone to take off their rank and have a good time with each other as Marines.”
Mess nights give Marines and Sailors the chance to interact with all of their peers outside a work setting. Without the distraction of having to meet deadlines and get work done, the Marines can get to know each other beyond what their jobs are in the work place.
Marines at CNATT Cherry Point, which trains Marines in organizational and intermediate maintenance for the AV-8B Harrier, KC-130J and aviation ordnance communities, said that interacting in that type of setting was important.
“It helps build cohesion,” said Cpl. George R. Bilbrey III, an information assurance technician for CNATT. “You get to know your peers better. During the day, you’re too busy to sit and actually talk with them about things going on at the time, stuff you like, what you drink and stuff like that. It’s just work, work, work.”
“My Marines give it 110 percent every day when they come to work, training students, and we put a lot of students through CNATT,” said Melchior. “This gives them a chance to take a break from the schedule and celebrate each other as Marines.”
The experience of gags and pranks seemed different for first time Marines who went into the night expecting rigid adherence to protocol, but loosened up once they realized what was going on.
“Every time, everyone goes into it focused on their uniform making sure it’s clean and pressed,” said Staff Sgt. Kyle P. Andrews, who organized the mess night and is the instructional systems development staff noncommissioned officer in charge. “The junior troops are always a little bit nervous because they don’t know what to expect and the only thing they have to compare it to is the Marine Corps Ball. When they walk into a mess night, they think it’s going to be all ceremony, but then the fun, games, fining and real camaraderie begin, and they see it’s good brotherhood.”
The brotherhood applies to everyone in the chain of command. Sgt. Maj. William R. Sweet, the sergeant major of CNATT, said instilling this brotherhood is the primary function of mess nights, which it does by bringing everybody down to the same level.
“As a sergeant major, I don’t want to be above everybody else,” said Sweet. “If I’ve done something that deserves to be fined for in the past year, then I deserve to be fined for it. I would like to think that those who did not want to be here will take something away from this. They’ll take away camaraderie, esprit de corps, and a sense of, ‘I really want to be in this unit.’”
The guest of honor at the event was Sgt. Maj. Todd M. Parisi, sergeant major of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He said he sees mess nights as a way to improve troop welfare.
“I hope they gain an added understanding and appreciation for making sure they communicate to our younger Marines and Sailors that they’re valued and appreciated, telling them what they do matters,” said Parisi. “I think it’s important for them to understand that you can be tough and rigid, demanding and steadfast in your standards but you also can leave your Marines confident they are admired, respected, appreciated, valued, and loved for what they do.”
The brotherhood and appreciation extended past the Marines present in the room. At the end of the night, they toasted all past Marines who fought in wars from the American Revolution to the current war in Afghanistan.
“I think the toasts are a good way to stop and think about those who have gone before us, those that have fallen and those that are still with us,” said Bilbrey. “It gives us a chance to recognize those we don’t normally think about in our day-to-day lives, to think about those who don’t actually have a day of remembrance.”
Bilbrey said it was a humbling thought to think one day, Marine mess nights will be looking back on Marines of today in the same spirit of brotherhood.