They drank from a toilet bowl.
And they became an enduring part of the noncommissioned officer corps tradition.
That’s how more than 400 Soldiers of the NCO Academy spent their Friday night as they participated in the organization’s dining-in event held at the Regimental Club.
A dining-in is a military tradition, a formal occasion in which unit Soldiers and invited guests don dress uniforms to dine and engage in rituals and traditions that serve to boost morale and strengthen esprit de corps.
Command Sgt. Maj. Delice Liggon, NCOA commandant, said Friday’s dining-in was the third held this year for junior and senior NCOs attending the basic and advanced noncommissioned officer courses, helping them to understand the significance of Army traditions.
“Dining-ins are important because we need to teach young NCOs, the future leaders of the Army, about the NCO Corps, our basic traditions, protocols and etiquette,” she said, “so that when they become senior leaders, they can execute such an event in an outstanding manner.”
For the occasion, Soldiers can wear the dress blue uniform, but most wear the green Class A attire. White shirts, instead of the poplin green shirts are required and black bowties replace neckties. Tables are set in white linen and diners adhere to strict protocols.
Traditional toasts, entertainment skits and drinking grog were some of the featured events Friday night. The latter is something that has evolved into a comedic sham in which a Soldier presides over mixing various ingredients – in this case fake bleach, baked beans, fake blood and fake booze – into a toilet bowl. Drinking from the bowl is relegated to those attendees who are cited for uniform infractions or other protocol violations.
“It was a night to remember, very funny,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Gibson, an NCOA small group leader and the Soldier who had the honor of mixing the ingredients. “There were a lot of serious points but mostly a lot of tradition that was repeated here.”
One of the serious points came from the straight talk of guest speaker Command Sgt. Maj. Nathan J. Hunt III, the Quartermaster Center and School’s senior enlisted Soldier and the regimental command sergeant major. Hunt urged noncommissioned officers to take more responsibility and get back to basics in the way they lead Soldiers. He used media reports of substandard barracks as an example in which Soldiers need to be proactive rather than reactive.
“In the Army that I come from, the barracks is NCO business,” he said. “If I see pictures on TV and the barracks are substandard, there’s an NCO somewhere who’s not doing their job.”
Even more serious was a solemn tribute and toast to the fallen. A table set for one with helmet, rifle, boots and dog tags was a stark representation of all military members killed in action, those taken prisoners of war and missing in action. The moment was a poignant one for Sgt. Carole Alonzo-Mercado, a BNCOC student assigned to the 16th QM Company here.
“Sometimes you don’t think of the people who are not here with you,” she said. “It’s always good to remember the people who suffered for us.”
The night was by far one in which Soldiers had fun. To that end, BNCOC student Sgt. Dennis Ford said his first dining-in event exceeded his expectations.
“It was really a different experience,” said the Fort Campbell, Ky., Soldier. “I’ve never experienced anything like it. I actually had a good time.”
Sgt. Maj. John Brockington, NCOA deputy commandant, said the night was memorable because he saw himself in the students.
“When you become an old Soldier like me, you look back and see yourself, knowing that the next generation of Soldiers will take on the reins of leadership and that the country will be in safe hands,” he said.