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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



Comments that advance the discussion are welcome. Please provide your name and email address in the fields below. 


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
As a physician, I would agree that discarding the grog bowl is a wise idea. As many serious/ fatal binge-drinking episodes at fraternities and other places have shown, concepts like grog bowls are, at best, unwise. “Training” underage cadets to binge-drink in a peer pressure environment can potentially set them up for serious harm down the road. Consider this: what if it were a hooka bowl of weed instead of a grog bowl? Or what about the so-called “pharm parties” that involve grabbing random pills (usually “borrowed” from parents or grandparents) that have been poured into a communal bowl. Sometimes you get a blood pressure medication, and sometimes 10mg of Percocet. Would any of you who are protesting this change advocate for either of the two “bowls” I just described? What makes them different from a “traditional” grog bowl? Weed will likely soon be legal in all 50 states, so please dispense with that thought. And, the random pills were all legal when they were prescribed. As lawyers and jesuit philosophers would argue with the moral reasoning of Casuistry: all the prior examples are more alike than different. Where do we, as an organization promoting positive youth involvement, want to fall on this spectrum: the punch bowl side or the grog bowl side?
Jackson Maddux | 11/22/2019 at 05:48 PM
I am in complete agreement with the CAP policy of banning the grog from cadet functions. It is an inappropriate activity for them. It may be a tradition, but it is a gross and undignified one. Besides, I find it nearly indistinguishable from hazing, which is also specifically banned where cadet protection is concerned. If this is such an important issue for some, they should consider if CAP is an organization with which they should associate now the the toilet grog is banned. Is it worth walking away from the privilege of mentoring cadets and training them in aerospace education, emergency services, and cadet programs because the toilet grog is no longer tolerated? If so, farewell and godspeed.
Maj Othelmo da Silva | 11/22/2019 at 01:57 PM
Every single cadet I’ve met wants CAP to be stricter, more challenging, and generally more like the USAF, which is why they hold on to little things like the grog so dearly. It’s unfortunate that we’re moving in the opposite direction, and I’ve seen a lot of people leave because of this.
Craig Boone | 11/22/2019 at 04:10 AM
I personally do not have a care in the "Grog bowl" decision.  You can keep it, you can take it out, totally up to you guys.   However,  referring to 100's of years of military tradition as sillyness is absolutely wrong.  We are an organization full of tradition.  When you start dissing one tradition as sillyness the rest are sure to follow, so you are setting a horrible precidence.   AND, I personally think that our cadets are a cut above the rest, and to imply that they are not smart enough to understand differences in etiquette, manners, timing and fun, I do have huge issues with. 
Janice Podgurski | 11/21/2019 at 08:42 PM
The reason that Civil Air Patrol has this issue stems from a lack of understanding as to the point of the Mess Night/Dining in.
Ian Schuelke | 11/21/2019 at 05:12 PM
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