MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Faux fir trimmed, rose filled combat boots adorned the tables at the Combat Center Officers’ Club Saturday night.
It was the first indication that this would be a birthday ball like no other.
The second thing that set this ball apart from those Combat Center units hosted in recent weeks was the absence of Marines. The most obvious sign, however, was this: most of the women looked absolutely awful.
Traditionally, the women attending a Marine Corps Birthday Ball go out of their way to look their very best. This year, dozens of Combat Center wives did the exact opposite.
They came in the ugliest gowns possible, and in many cases, their hair and make-up looked terrible as well.
Marine Corps Community Services funded the ball as an Operation Enduring Families event, but it was the wives themselves who put it together. From the idea itself, to the preparation and the planning, the Ugly Gown Ball was done for the wives by the wives.
Lynne Crowe, the wife of the 7th Marine Regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Blake Crowe, thought of the idea. When asked, she gave credit for the event to Carole Turner, wife of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Roger Turner, for the behind the scenes coordination.
The only Marine participation was the cake cutting ceremony. The cake was wheeled in by four Marines from 3/7. Even that had a twist. The traditional shared piece went to the wife married the longest and the wife with the newest nuptials.
Jemma Chade has been married 20 years and Jessica Pinkerton married her Marine in May of this year.
The guest of honor, Barbara Ricker, had them both beat in years of marriage. She’s been married to the Combat Center sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. James Ricker, for 29 years.
Her speech, like most guest speeches at birthday balls, reflected on her history with the Corps.
“I married Jim before he went to boot camp, and back then, you didn’t rate base housing until you were a corporal,” she said, smiling at the ladies in front of her. “If you didn’t rate base housing, you didn’t rate to have the military pay for your move.”
Ricker went on to say she’d moved 27 times in 29 years, many of them with ‘a little U-Haul trailer behind the car.’
She shared about deployments, moves and posting pictures of her Marine at baby’s eye level, only to have her young son point to the refrigerator when asked where daddy was—even when ‘daddy’ was standing in the kitchen.
Turner said Ricker was a perfect candidate to be the guest speaker.
“Who better to talk to us while our husbands are deployed,” said Turner. “Married 29 years, ten deployments—two of them were one year unaccompanied—and they have two children.”
While the ladies mingled and danced, their gowns were judged by Ricker, Crowe and, Navy Lt. Diana Lantz, chaplain, Combat Logistics Battalion 7.
Prizes were given in eight categories. Shiloh Hand walked away with the award for the overall ugliest, with Abby Rawlins as her first runner up.
Hand was so excited to attend the event she scheduled a trip to London around the dates.
“This is right up my alley,” said Hand. “Costumes, being a dork and dancing—I wouldn’t have missed it!”
Megan Quinn’s metallic silver pants coupled with black heels and white tights earned her the award for the most creative outfit while her ‘date’ for the evening, Lori Powledge, earned the worst dress of the eighties award.
Other awards included best seventies, best hair to go with dress and best colors.
Jenny Sokol, who wasn’t able to attend the Headquarters Battalion Ball because her husband was in the field, walked away with the best of the sixties prize. While the majority of the wives at the event have husbands deployed overseas, Sokol and a few other wives were from non-deployed units.
Due to training requirements, Sokol missed this year’s ball as well as last year’s celebration.
“It was great to get together in a fun, no pressure setting, right here on base,” said Sokol, whose husband Maj. Blair Sokol is a Coyote at Tactical Training Exercise Control Group. “It was a chance for women to get together and support each other, all the while supporting our husbands.”
Tammy Zanzig, whose husband, Sgt. Bobby Zanzig is on his third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, felt the evening was a much needed break from routine.
“This deployment has been kind of hard,” said Zanzig, whose son Walter just turned five. “The most important thing while the Marines are gone is to stay connected. When loneliness sets in, people get lost in the deployment. This evening was great. It was a night just for us.”
When all was said and done, Turner was pleased with the evening.
“If you’re willing to put on a dress like that, and put yourself out there—you’re a fun person,” she said. “Saturday night, that room was filled with fun people. The whole night was a success, in my opinion.”