NORAD-USNORTHCOM hold joint enlisted dining-out

By Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen NORAD-USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

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More than 200 American and Canadian military members and their guests joined forces at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., on March 18 for a historic social event: the first-ever joint enlisted dining-out held by the North American Aerospace Defense Command and United States Northern Command, both headquartered at Peterson.

“It (was) two nations and actually eight branches of service,” said dining-out committee chair, Sgt. 1st Class Diana Martinez-Gray. “Members of the mess,” as attendees of these formal dinners are called, included members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and the Canadian Army, Air Force and Navy.

Because each of the services has its own particular standards of behavior and traditions for dining-outs, the binational, multi-service event committee decided to incorporate selected customs from all the services into a brand-new, unique format. At each place setting, purple napkins symbolized the blending of all the services’ different colored uniforms in the joint commands. Adjacent to the dining area, members of the mess could browse displays of uniforms and insignia representing all the U.S. and Canadian forces.

“We initially started with one person from each branch of service and Canada and discussed what their service-specific traditions were,” Martinez-Gray said. “We tried to combine pieces of each service to create a one-of-a-kind evening.”

From Canada came a kilt-wearing bagpiper, whose music alerted members of the mess it was time to move from the social hour gathering to the dining room. The U.S. Navy contributed one of its customs next, with a “piping detail” that used a whistle and bell to announce the arrival of the president of the mess – the master of ceremonies – and distinguished guests, including NORAD-USNORTHCOM commander, Adm. Timothy Keating, and his wife, Wandalee; NORAD deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Rick Findley, and his wife, Carla; USNORTHCOM deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge; NORAD-USNORTHCOM chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Raymond “Fred” Rees, and his wife, Mary Len; and NORAD-USNORTHCOM senior enlisted advisor, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. D. Scott Frye.

Following the singing of the national anthems of both Canada and the United States, members of the mess prepared for a toasting ceremony shared in various forms by every branch of service. On this night, however, they charged their glasses in a manner distinctive to the Canadian Air Force – called “flying” – which requires passing the decanter to the right from person to person, without touching it to the table until every glass has been filled.

The toasts themselves were a binational blend, saluting the flags of both countries, the queen of Canada and the president of the United States, the armed forces of Canada and each branch of the U.S. services.

A more solemn toast followed, as members of the mess honored prisoners of war and those missing in action in a ceremonial tribute common to all branches of the U.S. service.

“Of all the messes I’ve been to, this is the most interesting,” said Canadian Air Force Cpl. Michael Rockxx, who was accompanied by his wife, Cindy.

For Air Force Staff Sgt. Tameshia Johnson, the NORAD-USNORTHCOM dining-out was a first. “I think that it is very interesting and very beneficial,” she said. “Being Air Force, I know very little about (other service) traditions.

“It’s a benefit to see different traditions incorporated into (the event).”

Passing on military traditions to young troops and their spouses was a primary goal of the dining-out planners, Martinez-Gray said.

“I’m always overwhelmed” by official military functions, said Shannon Prevost, who isn’t a military spouse yet, but will be this summer when she marries Canadian Air Force Master Cpl. Paul Carver. Prevost traveled to Colorado from Nova Scotia to attend the dining-out with her fianc.

Another goal of the event committee was to give enlisted members the opportunity to meet their new commander, who was both a guest of the mess and the featured speaker.

“Dining-outs historically have been used to commemorate special occasions in a unit,” Frye said. “In this particular instance, this dining-out (was) the perfect opportunity for the commander and his wife to (spend time) with the enlisted population.”

Keating is just wrapping up his first six months as commander of NORAD-USNORTHCOM, having assumed the position in November 2004. The dining-out was his and Mrs. Keating’s first social interaction exclusively with the enlisted troops of both commands.

Although the military members of the mess wore different uniforms, came from different backgrounds and different nations, and even, in some cases, spoke different languages, Keating emphasized what they all have in common.

“It’s about service,” he said. “That’s what we salute tonight: it’s your service, to your nation, to your God, to your family. It’s not for everybody. It’s hard.

“You’re not in it for the money. But somebody’s got to do it. If you don’t, who will?”

The dining-out gave NORAD and USNORTHCOM’s enlisted service members a “sense of community” and an opportunity to talk with senior leadership on a personal level, said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Castaldo. “I think it’s great for morale for the enlisted force.”

Frye said it was important to include spouses and “significant others” in the enlisted troops’ first formal get-together because “families serve together.”

“When we celebrate, we should all celebrate together,” he said.