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The Cadet Ball & The Grog

Posted on 11/21/2019 at 11:48 AM by Curt LaFond

 

What place should a Cadet Ball, formal dinner, or military dining-out occupy in the CAP Cadet Program? I write as a huge advocate for the Cadet Ball (the term I prefer) because the formal social event is a fun way to impart the Core Value of Respect.

In some locations, the Cadet Ball’s distinguishing feature has been the grog – a foul-tasting concoction sometimes containing Coke, OJ, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and other stuff that is okay on its own but disgusting as a mixed beverage. Participants are “ordered” to drink from the grog in sufferance for their “infractions” against the formal dining rules. At some events, the grog bowl is a sanitized toilet and a combat boot substitutes for a ladle. Whatever its ingredients, the grog is a parody. It’s supposed to be silliness in good fun, and mostly is, so why has CAP prohibited the grog at cadet activities? (Ref: CAPR 60-2, 2.2.2, November 2019)

USAF airmen enjoying the grog

Consider how parodies work elsewhere in life. The movie Shakespeare in Love is extra-hilarious to English majors like yours truly because we get more of the jokes. To appreciate a parody, you need to be conversant with the original. The Austin Powers movies must seem bizarre if you’re unfamiliar with Bond, James Bond. Some might concede that grogs parody formal etiquette but reply that even a 12-year-old cadet can laugh at the silliness, so where’s the harm?

The grog is inappropriate for the CAP cadet age group because we’re asking cadets to simultaneously comprehend and appreciate two ideas that are in direct opposition.

The grog is inappropriate for the CAP cadet age group because we’re asking cadets to simultaneously comprehend and appreciate two ideas that are in direct opposition. Call this the “oppositional problem.” For the grog, the two opposing ideas are (1) that formal settings call for high manners that ennoble all who participate and (2) formal settings are ripe for mockery. Imparting the first idea upon cadets who are getting dressed up for the first time in their lives is a significant challenge: Attire. Table manners. Conversational skills. Politeness and grace without stuffiness. When we send cadets to the grog, we risk undoing learning that is not yet fully ingrained, even if the grog is a yummy G-Rated beverage.

Apply the oppositional problem to flight academies. We train cadets that flying is a sobering, complex, highly-demanding skill to master. No surprise that we would never make arrangements for cadets to buzz the tower in good fun. On the drill field, cadets train for a parade. We don’t command “Pass in Review” and then hop, skip, and jump past the reviewing officer. That would defeat the purpose of the parade. Flight training and military parades are ripe for parody, but cadets are too busy comprehending and internalizing the legitimate training goals to include their parodies in cadet life. 

My secondary concern about the grog, an artifact of an earlier era where “manhood” was measured by the ability to hold one’s liquor, is that the grog exists where the audience is captive. Event organizers can sincerely promise that everyone is free to opt-out of the grog, but peer pressure is nevertheless at work. Teens are at a vulnerable stage in their development. They navigate enough bullies and insecurities already without our adding another opportunity for humiliation at the grog. Complain that banishing the grog is political correctness is taking all the fun out of cadet life, but you’ll be defending what is at best silliness. America is better served by our training cadets in duty, honor, and country than in the parody of those values, and with a little imagination a Cadet Ball can be lots of fun without a grog.

What distinguishes a Cadet Ball from a mere high school prom if we banish the military tradition of a grog? Plenty. An honor guard should provide a cordon at the Cadet Ball. Cadets and their dates can be formally announced by grade upon entering the ball and then pass through a formal receiving line. Formal toasts should be offered: “To the Cadet Corps,” “To the National Commander,” and “To the Commander in Chief.” A POW/MIA remembrance ceremony adds solemnity to an otherwise festive event. California Wing’s ball includes many of these features and the CP staff impressed me by their putting cadets through a training session on the demands of protocol.

Let the teen prom king and queen celebrate school spirit. Allow stressed, over-tasked warfighters their revelry. But in CAP, let’s use the Cadet Ball as a venue for impressive, freshly-scrubbed young patriots to learn, have fun, and show the world their Core Values.

 

- Curt LaFond

 

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Comments
I am a new cadet and am just now learning about how a cadet lives. Mainly I text this to show that I agree with Mr. LaFond about the sound of how disgusting grog is, but that is an adult beverage and should not be served to cadets
Ezekiel Edmondson | 10/23/2020 at 05:34 PM
I am a retired 20-year Air Force veteran and a 25-year member of CAP. I have always found the grog bowl disgusting. At Dining Ins, I thought the idea was to avoid doing anything that would send someone to the grog bowl. I never saw a toilet used until I got in CAP. The Air Force supported use of an alcoholic grog and excessive alcohol use until the 1980s when society began playing down drinking and smoking. Historically, alcohol was given to sailors onboard ships as a reward for a job well done. The alcohol was controlled by the captain and was actually healthier to drink than the water back in the 16th and 17th centuries. The military eventually decided promoting alcohol was not the best way to move forward. Even the military changes historical behaviors and traditions for its own good. I have seen that cadets look forward to the grog as a right of passage and purposely create reasons to be sent to the grog. Adults, who have probably been cadets , promote this behavior. Drinking alcohol to get drunk or drinking a distasteful grog to get noticed is further propagated by frat boys at college. I see these behaviors as a measure of maturity or the lack thereof, not as a means of entertainment. What happened to developing youth leaders into leaders who are respectful and respected.
Maj Cynthia Smith | 05/06/2020 at 03:03 PM
Personally i feel that a formal dinner is perfectly acceptable because its a good chance for R&R, but also keeps a sense of military baring, if not more so. A dance on the other hand can be difficult because CAP is a paramilitary organization and thus the rules of fraternization apply. In my eye's if the squadron is well behaved enough to follow the rules of no dating between fellow cadets while in uniform, that would be fine. But knowing kids that won't happen much. So I'd say let the ball happen, but no fellow cadets as dance partners or dates unless they have an officers permission.
C/TStg Nathanael DeWitt | 03/09/2020 at 09:40 AM
First, I would like readers to remember that Mr LaFond is himself a recipient of the Spaatz award, and therefore speaks with as much background as any of us! I spent my cadet years as a member of the British Air Training Cops, a car more militaristic program than CAP, but it was not until I moved up to the officer's mess, that I encountered the grog bowl, and even then it was only one option,, the other being to perform some silly forfeit. It should also be noted that these activities only occured at a "dining-in," a mess dinner confined to squadron officer's and the occasional distinguished guest. I would also note that no one was permitted to go to the bathroom until the President declared a comfort break, though usually in more colorful terms! Rather than being foul tasting, the "grog" was a mixture of various forms of alcohol, resulting in a mixture with the volatility of Avgas! My opinion is that, regardless of what they my subsequently do should they join the military as adults, it is not a "tradition" to which we should be exposing them as teens. Let me leave you with the British loyal toast which every junior officer feared having to make... "Quintle-men, the Jean!"
Roger Middleton | 12/07/2019 at 01:14 PM
As a 40-year veteran of CAP, both cadet and senior member, I think banning the grog bowl is the most foolish, short-sighted, insulting change of regulations since the uniform changes of the 80s. The author of this article doesn't seem to have a clue about modern-day CAP cadets. He seems to be longing for a world that no longer exists. As a 3-time former squadron commander, I can attest that cadets eagerly participate in the grog rituals, and some even knowingly commit infractions so they can "earn a trip to the bowl." For the younger cadets, the more experienced cadet leaders generally clue them in. I personally think it is a fun activity, and have made a trip or two to the bowl myself in my CAP career. To pretend cadets can't entertain the thought of a formal occasion with the structured hijinks of the grog bowl is to insult the cadets. I can tell you they adapt very well. The grog is a learning experience, and teaches cadets to pay attention to protocol. And frankly, for National Headquarters to publish this rule without advance warning and a chance to comment is insulting to all members. The grog bowl is a cherished tradition, and NHQ has just taken away one of the few reasons I would attend a CAP banquet. >>>>>> REPLY >>>>> It's ironic that my post supporting change and the new standard is met by an accusation that I'm "longing for a world that no longer exists." Quite the contrary; I support our leaving the old way behind. - Curt LaFond
Lt. Col. Michael Thompson | 11/25/2019 at 09:33 AM
The Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program can be and often is an incubator for developing nascent citizens and leaders in a “laboratory” environment with pseudo-realities and surrogate successes that map well into the “real-world” of post-cadet and even post-CAP reality. Experiences lived, lessons learned, and skills acquired can and do equip and prepare our aspiring adolescent leaders for positive, contributing roles in serving our country and society. Mighty lofty goals. We’ve chosen a paramilitary model for our program, and with patience, wisdom, and insight, and a great deal of practice (some not so successful!), we sit today in the midst of a paradigm and implementation structure that clearly produces a fine result... what Jack Sorensen called, “Dynamic Americans and Aerospace leaders.” In addressing this relatively minor, and oft-misunderstood quaint custom, I think we become embroiled in a tradition that in fact has no roots in our Cadet Program. As amusing (except to the consumer) as this frolic may be, it is NOT a tradition of the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Corps, and I cannot find where it supports or mission and goals. I believe Curt LaFond’s cogent thoughts on the matter, representing NHQ’s position deserve our respect and reasoned support and compliance. Let’s use this opportunity to help our cadet members elevate their understanding of what it truly means to be a CAP Cadet and build traditions worthy of that calling.
Kit Reichow | 11/24/2019 at 05:17 PM
Not one cadet i have talked to wants the grog gone. They are upset it is leaving. My cadets are held to a high standard. The grog is one fun way to let loose.
Patti Worthy | 11/23/2019 at 11:33 AM
In my many years as a cadet, I’ve seen a fair number of decisions by the NHQ cadet team that weren’t very well received by the cadet corps, and this is one of them. I’m deeply concerned by the disconnect between the leadership and the cadets, and I really wish the decision making process that affects thousands of members of a volunteer organization (where members pay their own money to stay in) could be more open. Perhaps we could have had a dialogue and come to a compromise if the draft regulation had come out more than a couple weeks before its implementation. Personally, I think while there have been a couple of isolated incidents of people taking the grog too far, it’s not a good move to end a tradition that’s so fondly remembered among many cadets. I believe that if we had certain rules (no toilet bowls, no solid items in the grog, give the cadets the right to refuse, to name a few) and explained the significance behind the tradition, the grog could continue in a form that’s appropriate for cadets. At the very least, NHQ could have suggested some fun alternatives. I also don’t believe a dining in should be used for training, because they’re usually held at the end of a year or at the end of an activity. They’ve accomplished the training already, and they need some time to unwind. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity for cadets to relax and have fun with their friends, and make good memories of the cadet program that’ll last forever. It’s also very valuable for building camaraderie and unit cohesion, which is essential for the program to succeed. Regulating it like a classroom and making it uptight like a ball or a school dance defeats the purpose of the whole event. Even the youngest, newest cadets seem to know that there’s a time for seriousness and a time for fun, and the claim that they can’t distinguish the two isn’t giving them nearly enough credit. I sincerely hope a compromise can be made in the future. It’s quirks like the grog that help make CAP, CAP and make us unique among youth programs.
Andrew Varnes | 11/23/2019 at 12:36 AM
It sounds like Mr. Lafond has a very strong opinion in the matter. Perhaps he had to visit the grog bowl more than he wanted in the past? I’m very curious, other than Mr. Lafond’s personal opinion, what the decision making process was in writing this prohibition into regulation. Have there been any formal (and substantiated) complaints through the Inspector General channels? Were there any discussions outside of the NHQ Cadet Programs team regarding this? It’s truly unfortunate. This removes an item that has been a tradition at various events across Civil Air Patrol, it removes an item that provides a certain esprit de corps among members. I haven’t always enjoyed my trips to the grog bowl, but they’ve usually resulted in a few laughs along the way.
Ted Wolf | 11/22/2019 at 07:40 PM
Saying that the Grog is inappropriate because it forces cadets to balance two opposing ideals is completely missing the fact that formal military dine-ins do the exact same, and to a more severe degree. Whether you find it “silly ness” or not, it’s far from inappropriate and parallels a time-tested tradition which few cadets will ever be fortunate enough to experience in the actual armed forces. CAP got it wrong and is overthinking again.
Stefan Kingly | 11/22/2019 at 05:58 PM
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