Formal military dinners are a tradition in all branches of the United States Armed Forces. In the Air Force, Navy, and Army it is the Dining-In; in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard it is Mess Night. The Dining-In is rich in tradition and the Dining-Out is similar in all aspects to a Dining-In. The major difference is that the Dining-Out includes spouses and guests.
As with most ancient traditions, the origin of the Dining-In is not clear; formal dinners are archaic in nature. From pre-Christ Roman Legions, to second century Viking warlords, to King Arthur’s knights in the sixth century, feasts have been used to honor military victories and individual and unit achievements. Some trace the origins of the Dining-In to the old English monasteries. The custom was then embraced by the early universities and eventually adopted by the military with the advent of the officers’ mess. With the implementation of the Dining-In by the military, these dinners became more formalized. British soldiers brought the custom to colonial America, and then George Washington’s continental army imitated the traditions.
One of the most traditional parts of a Dining-In/Out has been the “Grog Bowl.” The history of the “Grog Bowl” has become obscured with time. However, it is believed that during the years of the westward expansion, Cavalry Troopers would share their spirits with one another thereby ensuring that all fellow troopers had something. The spirits usually consisted of whatever an individual trooper’s taste was, and that, when mixed with other drinks, created a powerful drink known as “GROG”. The comradeship developed through the various wars and campaigns usually entailed the rare opportunity to share spirits with each other. Today’s “GROG” is more symbolic. It encompasses the age-old custom of sharing with the history of a unit.