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Glitz and glam: What am I doing here?

Senior Airman Chelsea Smith (U.S. Air Force Photo/Don Peek)

Senior Airman Chelsea Smith (U.S. Air Force Photo/Don Peek)

Members of the 94th Airlift Wing Honor Guard take their turn at the grog during the 94th Airlift Wing Dining Out held in downtown Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)

Members of the 94th Airlift Wing Honor Guard take their turn at the grog during the 94th Airlift Wing Dining Out held in downtown Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)

Members of the 94th Airlift Wing Honor Guard take their turn at the grog raising a cup "to the mess" at the 94th Airlift Wing Dining Out held in downtown Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)

Members of the 94th Airlift Wing Honor Guard take their turn at the grog raising a cup "to the mess" at the 94th Airlift Wing Dining Out held in downtown Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 1. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- It was a night to remember for all the right reasons. At nine-thirty in the evening, a cool breeze brushed my face and a smirk began to form. In hindsight, I was glad I attended, though, my stomach still growled at the thought of the "grog bowl," contents of which still remain unknown.

"That's one thing you have to watch out for," said Master Sgt. James Branch, 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs deputy chief, "but that can also be the most fun part of the night." Indeed it was.

Saturday's Dining-Out occasion was the first Air Force formal I've ever attended in which, truthfully, I held low expectations and attended with an apathetic attitude. I imagined a gathering of neatly dressed, high-ranking individuals with a glass of Merlot in one hand and a date draped on the other side.

Conversations would consist of subjects I didn't care to discuss. Upon entering the Buckhead Ritz Carlton, my imagination came to life. I thought to myself, "Be patient. The night will soon be over."

Early festivities included a social hour in which guests mingled and dazzled in their mess dress and formal wear. As chimes rang signaling the procession into the main room, my eyes diverted to the extravagant room d├ęcor and table settings. After only eight months in the Air Force Reserve, I was able to experience this social, yet professional event as a Senior Airman.

I took my seat at table ten, close to the head table. "May I?," said a member of the wait staff as she draped a white cloth napkin across my lap. "Uh, sure," I said slightly caught off-guard. I glanced around the room sizing-up the dresses worn by civilian women and observing the behavior of military personnel.

Etiquette, I was told, was a major component of attending these functions and determined whether one drinks a nice, warm glass of, well, grog juice. As entire tables and units were called to the grog, I sensed the good-natured intention of allowing our military servicemembers to let loose while continuing an Air Force tradition. Initially intent on avoiding the grog, I became enthralled with committing an "infraction." I pulled out my cell phone, I chewed a piece of gum, and momentarily, I even placed my purse on the table. Although these infractions went unnoticed, I witnessed how this custom livened up the traditional ceremony and brought a sense of camaraderie to several attendees.

After the closing of the grog, I felt as though I missed an opportunity, but the show had to move on.

Following the conclusion of dinner, I looked to the Senior Master Sgt. to my right and discussed my intended future within the Air Force. I looked across the table to a Captain and shared a joke and to my left, a lesson in changing a diaper from a new father, and Major in the reserve.

I enjoyed the distinguished guest and speaker, ret. Maj. Gen. Edward Mechenbier, and his take on our current dependency on technology, of which I can whole-heartedly relate.
Overall, networking opportunities were abundant and professional development proved beneficial to all attendees, especially new airmen. Initially not wanting to attend, I came to realize that I disguised my intimidation with displays of indifference and unenthusiasm.

I appreciated the night filled with all of its conversations, speeches and festivities. As I returned to my car at the end of the night, I smiled and thought, "What a beautiful way to start a career."