YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Yokosuka, Japan — Lt. Greg Aydelotte had been in the Navy 20 years before he finally dragged himself to the Navy Ball. His expectations were minimal.

The ball was in a gym, for one thing. How elegant could it be? “You think it’s going to be all soccer balls …” Aydelotte said.

But no. There was not a soccer ball in sight. “Everybody was looking sharp,” Aydelotte said. “The ladies looked sharp,” he said, smiling at the memory four years later. Much to his surprise, Aydelotte found himself having fun. “After all the pomp and circumstance, it was party time,” he said.

Now Aydelotte is this year’s biggest Navy Ball promoter, as chairman of the base Navy Day Ball. Late last week, Aydelotte, who as the base’s ammunition operations officer normally keeps track of missiles, bombs and bullets, was trying to keep track of tickets.

He sat in front of Starbucks fielding phone calls, ordering big-screen televisions, being interviewed and still had time occasionally to shout out to passers-by he knew: “Got your tickets yet?”

The ball starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at Thew Gym. Tickets start at $20 (for sailors up to petty officer second class) and top out at $50 (for commanders and above).

The annual, traditional, formal event marks the anniversary of the U.S. Navy’s commissioning. This year is the 229th anniversary, Aydelotte said. It’s a formal affair, with men in dress blues, Navy women in regulation long, blue skirts and civilians in black tie.

This year, the ticket price was reduced by $5 as part of a special effort to encourage attendance by more younger, enlisted sailors, who in the past haven’t always shown a great deal of enthusiasm.

“They think of the Navy Ball, and they think of us old guys standing at attention, listening to an admiral talk,” said Aydelotte, 41.

An admiral does talk — this year it’s Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander of the Kitty Hawk strike group. But people are sitting down at the time, at tables where they’ve just enjoyed a nice meal, Aydelotte said, in a gym so decked out in drapery, napery, bunting and bows, it hardly will be recognizable.

Adm. Kelly was out of town and could not be reached for a preview of his speech. His aide, Lt. Cmdr. Dan Harwood, said no one knew what the admiral planned to talk about and that he usually kept such remarks purposely under wraps to prevent tampering.

“It’s a tradition in the aviation community to get a hold of the CO’s speech and mess with it,” Harwood said, “and I think he’s learned from that.” Harwood added that the admiral is an excellent speaker.

After the speeches, the 7th Fleet Band and a DJ are to be on hand for music and dancing. Cocktails will be available; the ball organizers were working on getting extra cab service and duty drivers to drive imbibing people home.

Last year’s ball, which about 740 people attended, cost $30,000. This year, the planning group had more to spend — and were able to reduce the ticket prices — because of increased fund-raising, partly from a car show, mostly in the form of selling barbecue.

“We made over $15,000 just cooking burgers,” Aydelotte said.

So there also will be door prizes and a $1,000 college scholarship awarded.

Aydelotte said some ships already had sold all their tickets — the USS Kitty Hawk does so almost every year, he said. He said he wasn’t sure how many tickets had sold.

One officer who happened by said he was indeed planning to attend, involuntarily. “It’s mando-fun for the wardroom,” he said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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