Marines toast to brotherhood
Submitted by: MCAS Miramar
Story Identification Number: 200421215235
Story by Staff Sgt. Maria C. Brookman

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.(Feb. 13, 2004) -- Toasts were shared and the smoking lamp was lit as staff noncommissioned officers of Marine Aircraft Group 11 gathered together to participate in a mess night at the Serra Mesa staff club here Feb. 6.

The mess was presided over by MAG-11's Sgt. Maj. Peter J. Trower and retired Sgt. Maj. Tracy L. Wahl was the guest of honor. Mr. Vice, usually the most junior member of the mess, was Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Nila, with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11.

"We are holding this mess night in the spirit of brotherhood, the fostering of camaraderie and keeping Marine Corps traditions alive. As we continue to press on with the war on terror and execute (Operation Iraqi Freedom) II, it may be a few years before MAG-11 can muster so many staff NCOs," said Nila, a Sun Valley, Calif., native.

"This is the ultimate tradition," echoed Staff Sgt. Michael T. Flowers, Squadron Support Division staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, MALS-11. "It lets us learn about our fallen comrades and it upholds the true beliefs the Marine Corps holds."

More than 150 SNCOs from the group arrived wearing their Service "A" uniforms to enjoy dinner and engage in polite conversation. As a rule, members of the mess do not talk about work, religion, politics or money.

"This is great," said Gunnery Sgt. Kevin W. Layne, maintenance controller, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225. "I'm sorry to see not all staff NCOs are here but I think it should happen more often because we just haven't done this type of thing before."

Wahl, project manager, J. K. Hill & Associates, Miramar Projects Office, spoke of SNCOs as being the motivation behind all of the Marine Corps' accomplishments and of the mess night being a time for reflection of the customs and traditions of the Corps.

"The basic leadership traits and principles have not changed," said Wahl, a native of Anoka, Minn. "You bring Marines up and take the time with them. (You) teach them organization. (SNCOs) cut to the chase, get down to business and get the job done.

"It's good to know where you've been because it helps to define where you are going."

While the event itself presented an atmosphere of fellowship and goodwill, the highlight of the evening was when president of the mess night opened the floor for fines. Endorsed and encouraged by all members of the mess, the fines were only limited by imagination and the severity of the alleged crime, or in some cases, the inability of the members to appropriately convey requests to address mess officials. Standing up at the position of attention, facing Mr. Vice who was seated to the rear of the dining hall, the individual either properly made the request or was sternly told to "sit down!" by Mr. Vice.

The final proceedings of the evening were toasts held to commemorate those who have led Marines in the past and those who continue to do so in peacetime and in garrison. Pre-selected members of the mess stood up one at a time to raise a glass to their comrades-in-arms who continue to march on and share in moments of silence for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The idea behind mess nights is older than Corps itself, dating back to the days of old when Roman military commanders held feasts to honor their heroes. The practice of the mess by Sailors and Marines began in the early 1800s during a tumultuous, patriotic era of America.

On July 4, 1819, The National Intelligencer of Washington, wrote, "A large party of gentlemen assembled to celebrate the glorious festival of the anniversary of American independence ... Accompanied with songs and music from the Marine Band, and announced by repeated discharges of artillery, many toasts were drunk."

Though the practice of expending rounds is no longer continued, the drinks still flow and the solidarity among brothers remains. The Marines who partook in this occasion honored this event as the embodiment of camaraderie and esprit de corps.

"This was beautiful," said Staff Sgt. Darrell R. Brathwaite, maintenance administration clerk,VMFA (AW)-225. "Having all staff NCOs get together as one, getting away from work to fellowship. We should have this (more often)."

Staff Sgt. Jaime D. Reyes (left) and Gunnery Sgt. Douglas J. Gamboa of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11 share in a toast honoring Marines of the past, present and future during a Mess Night held Feb. 6 at the Serra Mesa Club, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Maria C. Brookman