G: It’s pretty standard across the Air Force, I’m not sure about the other branches but- So we have “dining-ins” or “dining-outs” so.. “Dining-in” is like a dinner event amongst everyone in the unit, so it’s just pure, like, military. And then “dining-out” is when you can invite your family, you can have dates and stuff. And depending on the circumstance, there’s something called a grog bowl. It’s the worst thing in the world! So like, if you ever look at what a “dining-in” or “dining-out” is, there’s a president and a vice president. It’s like role-playing, it’s really funny, it’s so dumb. So it’s like, let’s say the president hasn’t been seated yet, to eat dinner, like.. and everybody else sits down to eat, everyone has to go to the grog bowl. The grog bowl is like a punch bowl with like, the nastiest stuff inside like, they throw like, cranberry juice and like, chocolate and like- They just mix everything like hot sauce. And last time, they threw a slice of pizza, so they started involving solids. And it was the worst experience ever because it’s like, nobody wants to go to the grog bowl, but that’s like, it’s- it’s tradition that you have to have a grog bowl at one of these events, at least if you’re making it a formal one, like by the books. Like the grog bowl, if somebody makes a mistake, they have- they have to be sent to the grog bowl. They have to get a little shot- like plastic shot glass or whatever, serve themselves, drink the whole thing, and then lift the cup and like, flip it upside down on their heads. So if they don’t drink it, they just spill the freakin’ all th- all the liquids on top of their heads. Or they drink it all and they don’t have anything, right? And it’s just like, it’s so funny. So it’s like, there’s so many little tedious things so if like, somebody makes a mistake: Oh! You’re goin’ to the grog! You spoke before being told to speak? You’re goin’ to the grog! It’s such a funny experience.
I collected this piece in a conversation with one of my friends over lunch about military traditions and customs since he is an Air Force ROTC Cadet at the University of Southern California and my dad served 26 years in the U.S. Navy. The informant is a sophomore studying astronautical engineering and a cadet in the USC Air Force ROTC. He described having a grog bowl at dining-ins and dining-outs as “by far a terrible, but super fun experience,” also telling me about how one of the worse ones he had experienced was when they included solids into the mixture. He could not recall what he did wrong immediately, but he then remembered that he had started eating before the president did. The informant also explained additional information, like how the roles are typically determined by the highest-ranking officers, and that they have the authority to “do whatever the hell they want” with the grog bowl, as long as there was not any alcohol. When asked about the origin though, the informant said that he only knew of it as an Air Force tradition for dining-ins and dining-outs.
The Air Force grog bowl is an interesting piece of military folklore because it is essentially a type of hazing that is not really associated with assuming a new identity or an initiation tradition, and it also juxtaposes a single element of chaos that has been allowed to remain with an otherwise highly regulated and disciplined environment. With other humorous or more casual traditions, there is a time and place where it is acceptable for a large group to engage with it as once, thus creating an overall environment of humor or chaos. Yet, the grog bowl sits in the middle of a formal event. It seems as if it is meant for enforcing discipline and proper behavior at dining-ins or dining-outs since those who make any type of mistake are sent to the grog bowl. In the case of the informant I spoke to, though, he could not readily recall what he was sent to the grog for, which somewhat decreases the effectiveness of the grog bowl as a means of discipline. His strongest memories on the grog bowl are how funny the whole concept is and how nasty the mixture was when he got punished at one of his first dining-ins. Everyone is equally susceptible to being sent to the grog bowl and as such, is held to the same expectation of conduct and discipline – two very important ideas in any branch of the military – regardless of ranking or status. Regardless of its purpose, whether for entertainment or punishment for those who make mistakes in conduct or both, it is clear that the tradition is expected as a part of formal events. With each new concoction that is created and each member that is sent to suffer with it, the U.S. Air Force tradition lives on.