Most military units host an annual ball to honor their service members, spouses and fallen comrades. A military ball is a formal event, and service members are required to wear their best dress uniform; spouses and guests wear formal evening attire. Prior to the official start of a military ball, ticketed ball guests are seated at dining tables by order of rank. Toasts are offered, and the host of the ball -- usually the unit commander -- gives a speech. A guest speaker is often invited to address the troops and their spouses, and dinner is served. Dancing generally follows dinner.
The toastmaster, generally the host of the ball, must toast the president, distinguished guests, the host of the ball and the service members as required by military regulations. Also required are toasts to prisoners-of-war, those killed or missing in action, and fallen service members, even if none are from the unit. Required toasts are given before any toasts of goodwill or spontaneous toasts may be called.
Toasts of Goodwill
Toasts of goodwill should be kept short and simple, according to Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-60. Toasts congratulating service members on successful deployments can include statements like, "To those who sacrificed," and "To continued success and happiness." Troops whose spouses recently gave birth can be toasted with words like, "To new members of the Army family," or "To welcome additions to our unit." Spouses who are being recognized for volunteer efforts that have helped the unit can be toasted individually or as a group; for example, "To the spouses" or "To Jane Smith for her service" are appropriate toasts.
Spontaneous Toasts and Anecdotes
Spontaneous toasts, like toasts of goodwill, should also be short and concise. Any service member may initiate a spontaneous toast after dinner, when wine or champagne has been served. Using proper military customs and courtesies, it is appropriate for a service member to toast the unit commander or other soldiers by saying, "To the commander" or "To Command Sergeant Major Jones." Generally, short anecdotes that are appropriate for the entire audience can precede a toast. Never share stories of combat unless they tout the valor of the person being toasted and will not refer to missing or deceased service members, and never use profanity in an anecdote.
There is an appropriate protocol that must be followed during toasts at military balls. If a civilian female is toasted, for example, she may either stand and acknowledge the toast or remain seated and raise her glass in acknowledgement. When prisoners-of-war are toasted, they should only be toasted with water -- never alcohol. All attendees at a military ball should acknowledge a toast in some manner, even those who are not drinking alcohol or those who have an empty glass. Mandatory toasts, including those for POWs and those killed in action, have specific responses that must be uttered.
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