By Lance Cpl. Erik S. Brooks Jr.
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan – The trumpets sounded and the drums beat as the Marines slowly marched to center stage. The colors were staged and the band sounded for the cake detail to bring forth the masterpiece, a birthday cake marking the Marine Corps’ 236th birthday.
In keeping with tradition, the unit’s commanding officer cut a piece of the cake for the guest of honor first. He then cut a slice of cake for the oldest Marine present. After taking a bite of cake, the oldest Marine passed the slice to the youngest Marine, to symbolize the passing of knowledge and tradition from the older generation to the new.
This was the scene of 9th Engineer Support Battalion’s Marine Corps birthday ball at The Palms Club on Camp Hansen Oct. 28 – a scene that will be repeated many times throughout November and into December – as other Marine units here celebrate the Corps’ birth of Nov. 10, 1775.
“It’s Marines that make the balls like this happen,” said Lt. Col. Scott A. Baldwin, commanding officer of 9th ESB, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “In addition to the Marines, (Marine Corps Community Service) has a big part in the balls; for them, they are just getting started.”
From company, battalion and squadron-level all the way up to MEF-level, units will hold their own birthday balls to honor the Corps’ continued service to America, according to Dianne Villalobos, account executive for MCCS Marketing.
“There will be 40 Marine Corps balls around Okinawa that we will set up; three in October, 35 in November and two in December,” said Villalobos.
Preparing for that many celebrations takes a lot of preparation, according to Olena V. Napolitamo, event planner for The Palms Club.
MCCS starts planning more than six months in advance and begins coordinating with individual units about two months before birthday ball season begins, according to Napolitamo.
The III MEF Band also has its part to play, as small ensembles from the band perform at most of the celebrations.
The band divides itself into three sections, two small concert bands and one brass quartet, according to Staff Sgt. Victoria R. Ortiz, assistant enlisted conductor for the band.
“Our main mission for the balls is to support the ceremonial music,” said Ortiz. “With breaking up into groups, we are able to cover all the balls on Okinawa.”
The band even supports some birthday balls at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on mainland Japan, Ortiz said.
According to Lance Cpl. Steven A. Root, a combat engineer with 9th ESB attending his third ball, the best part about the ball is having every rank come together in one place to celebrate together.