Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (GK).
GK: “I’m a member of the US Army. And we have a tradition at our balls, well I’ve never been to our balls because I’m a new member, but I’ve heard about it from my lieutenant. At a lot of the balls, a bunch of people come to these balls, hundreds and hundreds with their significant other, depending on the unit a lot of times they will have like a huge, a cauldron isn’t a good word, but like a barrel, and they’ll fill it with the grog. Depending on the unit they will put a bunch of things in it, usually alcoholic but they put other things in it as well. So like if a unit had certain historic deployments, like say they fought a battle at a certain place in france, then one of the things that they would put in the Grog would be like a wine that was made from that town in France, or Italy, or Germany. But it’s not necessarily a wine it could be a whisky or anything like symbolizing that area and time where that unit fought. Like I think the 101st, the Screaming Eagles who are like a really distinguished unit, I believe they have like some sort of whiskey that was really popular from the era in WWII. And some people just put some really nasty shit in there too, and they used to drink it after like basic training, or other ceremonies. After the hardest part of basic training they used to just drink a really disgusting grog, but they can’t do that anymore, obviously because of people being underage and whatnot. So there’s usually enough for one person to have a shot, like at least a shot per person.”
CB “So what do you think is the point of the grog?”
GK “Um… to get drunk definitely. But it’s a little bit more than that because it’s definitely a big tradition. And usually people will just throw a lot of gross stuff into it for fun, and it’s definitely for fun and a little bit of tradition. Also honoring, like usually they’ll do it with a toast to the president or someone in the unit who did something very distinguished that year, like for example is someone won the medal of honor.”
My informant just graduated from basic training, and is now at a military base waiting to start further training and specialization. He grew up with an older brother in the army and has learned a lot about army culture from him, and then from his superiors at basic training. However, he has not yet been in the army long enough to participate in a lot of the traditions. Because of this, he is more of a passive bearer with this tradition. The military ball is an annual event for a specific unit. They are commonly hosted right before or after deployment. It can act as a final farewell, or a celebration of their safe return.
I called my informant to interview him over the phone, and recorded the interview on my laptop. I had often asked him about his experiences since enlisting, and so my questions were fairly normal for him. It was a casual comfortable conversation with the occasional input from his roommate.
A large part of the goal of a military ball is a celebration of life and accomplishment, as well as a way to offset the horrors of deployment. The grog itself is a way to ensure that the event stays lighthearted and fun. It would be very easy for an event right before or after deployment to turn somber as they think about their uncertain future or remember those they lost. The grog helps unite the attendees in the moment. It also helps overcome the divide between the dates and the unit itself by having everybody engage in the tradition. For my informant, the military ball and all the traditions that go along with it provides him with something to look forward to. When surrounded by so much death and uncertainty, it can be difficult to believe in a future for yourself. However, my informant would joke with his friends, discussing all of the gross things they might put in the grog once they get their chance. This provides a sense of hope for their future.
For another variation of military ball grog, see Rebecca Alwine’s article, “What Really Happens at a Army Ball” on VinePair. https://vinepair.com/articles/army-grog-bowl/