By James Spellman, Jr., Space and Missile Systems Center Public Affairs
/ Published September 03, 2015
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, El Segundo, Calif. -- Some came wearing old-style battle dress uniforms or BDUs. Others came in their current Airmen battle uniform or flight suits. Many dressed up like their favorite characters from Star Wars or The Rocketeer, or an episode of M*A*S*H. Some wore outfits that once seen in the waning light of the late afternoon sun, simply could not be unseen.
With their NERF side arms, double-pump action rifles, machine guns and even long-range cannons locked and loaded with black, blue and orange spongy rounds, more than 300 members of Space and Missile Systems Center prepared to do battle during the SMC Combat Dining-Out.
"Wow, what an outstanding event!" exclaimed Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force Program Executive Officer for Space. "This was a great opportunity for our SMC Airmen, civilians, contractors and their spouses to get together, celebrate our Air Force heritage and enjoy a warm summer Friday evening together."
The first such event held after a five year hiatus was sponsored by the Top Three enlisted corps and held in a mock "encampment" near the Los Angeles AFB fitness center.
Designed to increase members' morale, introduce some formal aspect of military social life and familiarize others with Air Force traditions, the history of a formal dinner to celebrate military victories and achievements traces its roots back to ancient times.
"The purpose of the dining-out is to enjoy a relaxing evening of camaraderie in good company amongst all the squadrons. We wanted to give something back to our fellow Airmen and give them something fun to do," said Master Sgt. Virginia Hernandez-Farfan, SMC Space Superiority Systems Directorate superintendent and lead action officer for the dining-out.
"I obviously could not do it alone. I had help which I feel should also be acknowledged, particularly Senior Master Sgt. Ivanis Washington from SMC Financial Management and Staff Sgt. Sarah Galati from the 61st Medical Squadron," said Hernandez-Farfan.
Attempting to create a realistic deployment scenario complete with camouflage netting, sandbags and armored vehicles as a backdrop, the warriors of the mess, some with their faces covered in camouflage paint, awaited in-processing or performed weapon checks. Top Three members issued formal instructions and a souvenir bag containing safety glasses, dog tags and additional "rounds" of NERF bullets in lieu of water guns and balloons, in deference to drought conditions affecting the state of California.
Members were highly encouraged to mix, mingle and meet other members of SMC's directorates and divisions, and various squadrons from the 61st ABG.
Greaves, along with Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, SMC vice commander, Thomas Fitzgerald, SMC acting executive director, Chief Master Sgt. Craig Hall, SMC command chief and other guests of the head table made their entrance with all the pomp and circumstance befitting their status.
Following Ruffles and Flourishes, presentation of the colors, various toasts and a review of the rules of engagement, Lt. Col. Ben Forest, SMC Remote Sensing Directorate, and Janell Green, 61st Communications Squadron in their roles as Mister and Madam Vice, called upon Senior Master Sgt. Steven Shulski, SMC 1st Sergeant and Master Sgt. Zachary Pate, 61st ABG 1st Sergeant as the official Sergeants-at-arms to assemble the grog bowl with the assistance of additional representatives from throughout the encampment.
"It was fun being Mister Vice and working with Janell," Forest said. "It's always fun and exciting when you have a direct influence on making the dining-out a success."
Forest added that one of his duties as Mister Vice was to prosecute individuals for "breaking the rules of engagements," to which many "Points of Order" were raised.
When found guilty of the "egregious offenses" by McMurry, sporting a sign stating "THE BOSS" as designated president of the combat dining-out, the "convicted" offenders - some of whom included civilians and spouses of active-duty members -- were ordered to complete an obstacle course to the blaring theme music of The Terminator as they made their way to the grog bowl.
"The most amazing part of the evening for me was when I was sent to the grog. I've never felt more touched than when I heard my name called," said Patrice Wilder, a Quantech Services, Inc. contractor with SMC's Range and Network Systems Division.
"I know that sounds silly, but for me, I felt so honored that my team cared enough about me to give me the opportunity to experience being sent to the grog," Wilder admitted. "I can't explain it and I wish I could put it I words. It was just the best experience ever and I'll never forget it."
After a combat dinner of turkey or ham sandwiches, a few "Code Red" NERF firefights and more court cases before the grog, distinguished guests and military veterans, retired Army 1st Lt. George Gentry, California National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Ron Cabrera and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Oehler spoke to the warriors of the mess, reflecting on their service in the past while offering personal thanks to the attendees for serving their country today.
Dining-outs and dining-ins are long-standing Air Force traditions that originated in the 1930s with the Army Air Corps and General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold's famous "wing-dings." These two social events differ only in that nonmilitary spouses, friends and civilians may attend a dining-out. Combat variations of these events are less formal and have grown in popularity in recent years.
"Some of the lieutenants didn't really understand why I was so excited to be there so I explained to them that even though I didn't serve, I feel connected to every member in the armed services who makes that sacrifice for Americans and that my way of supporting them is working here on base," said Wilder.
"Going to the combat dining-out gave me -- a contractor -- the opportunity to actually participate in an honorable tradition that I might not ever have the opportunity to participate in again," Wilder explained. "There were moments that I was sitting in awe and filled with gratitude, especially when I heard the guest speakers. And then there were other times that I just felt pure joy as I ran around during the code red NERF battles. I was told that my cool points just went up (with my teammates) when I did a battle cry and helped defend our tent with my NERF gun."