Planning is the key to a successful Marine Corps Birthday Ball

Corporate chef Wolfgang Geckeler smooths out the icing on the ceremonial birthday cake before a Marine Corps Ball at the Butler Officer’s Club on Monday. The club is hosting 19 of the 46 birthday balls on Okinawa.


By FRED ZIMMERMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 6, 2003

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Marine Corps Community Services helps take the stress out of planning Marine Corps birthday balls.

Each year, Marines are selected to serve on their unit’s Birthday Ball Committee in addition to their regular duties. On Okinawa, Marine Corps Community Services is there to walk them through the planning process.

Planning for the balls begins a year out, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Troy Landmesser, MCCS chief/staff noncommissioned officer in charge, noting planning begins with the next year’s memento. This year’s memento is a Northwest Territorial Mint silver Marine Corps coin.

Landmesser said he meets with the top enlisted servicemembers in each unit every June to schedule the nearly 50 balls planned on Okinawa.

“The generals on the island pick their ball dates and after that we have a lottery,” Landmesser said. “We draw numbers.”

This year there are 46 balls between Oct. 30 and Nov. 29.

Following the drawing, units submit dates to grab one of five clubs: Butler’s Officer Club, The Palms at Camp Hansen, Futenma Habu Pit, Kinser Surfside and Beachhead at Camp Schwab.

Some units change ball dates to get the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Band to perform or to get a re-enactment of the raising of the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima.

The band can support two birthday balls each night.

Community Services helps units plan through its Web site, www.okinawa.usmc-mccs.org/usmcball/files, Landmesser said.

In addition, Landmesser said he has three meetings with unit representatives and Community Services personnel beginning in September to make clear everyone’s responsibilities.

“The [points of contact] and the managers of the clubs are the key to success,” Landmesser said. “It seems like a lot to do, but once they get started, it’s not that bad. Once they start talking to the managers, everything falls into place.”

Butler Officer’s Club Manager Alan Burn said his staff works hard to make each unit happy.

“We try to accommodate everyone’s special requirements and fit all requests in,” Burn said. “About 95 percent of each ball is the same, and 5 percent is special requests.”

Maj. Kevin Coughlin, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force ball action officer, said Community Service’s plan was very helpful for the first-time planner.

“They make it pretty simple,” Coughlin said. “They put everything in front of you and help as much as they can. It’s a class act all the way around.”

For this year’s birthday celebration, clubs have expanded menus — guests can choose between stuffed pork chops or Pacific tilapia and scallops in addition to the traditional beef, chicken and vegetarian choices.

Community Services also helps take care of other details.

Landmesser said the organization provides taped music if a band isn’t available and the commandant’s and sergeant major of the Marine Corps’ videotaped birthday messages.

It even arranges transportation, photographers, disc jockey and event programming.

Community Services also opens the Child Development Center for the evening if the unit has at least 20 children who need care.

After each ball season, Community Services receives after-action reports and studies them to figure out what went right — and wrong.

“We’re always trying to improve and make it better every year,” Landmesser said.

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