Looking into the past to shape my future

Guests of honor Lt. Gen. Larry James, former 14th Air Force commander, and his wife Susan, receive gifts presented by Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, during the Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Members from around the base embraced traditions as they celebrated the 55th anniversary of space launches from Vandenberg. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

Guests of honor Lt. Gen. Larry James, former 14th Air Force commander, and his wife Susan, receive gifts presented by Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing commander, during the Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Members from around the base embraced traditions as they celebrated the 55th anniversary of space launches from Vandenberg. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

Units present their custom-made centerpieces during the 30th Space Wing Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Dining Out was held to celebrate the 55th anniversary of space launches at Vandenberg. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

Units present their custom-made centerpieces during the 30th Space Wing Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Dining Out was held to celebrate the 55th anniversary of space launches at Vandenberg. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

Lt. Col. Nicholas Petrone, 30th Medical Operations Squadron chief nurse, and his wife pose for a photo during the 30th Space Wing Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Members from around the base embraced traditions as they celebrated the 55th anniversary of space launches here. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

Lt. Col. Nicholas Petrone, 30th Medical Operations Squadron chief nurse, and his wife pose for a photo during the 30th Space Wing Dining Out April 11, 2014, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Members from around the base embraced traditions as they celebrated the 55th anniversary of space launches here. (U.S. Air Force photos/Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As I strolled down the red carpet, entering the Pacific Coast Club's main ballroom, photographs and rocket displays were exhibited throughout the entrance and Warrior Room covering the history of launches at Vandenberg.

At the sound of chimes, I joined Airmen of all ranks, guests and local community members, to celebrate the 30th SW's Dining Out April 11 at the PCC.

Being an Airman who has only been in the Air Force for two years, the whole atmosphere was new to me. I learned that at a Dining Out there are rules. Rules, that if broken, will not go unnoticed -- then all the action began.

I looked around the room and no longer saw familiar ranks of officers and enlisted but rather peculiar titles like President of the Mess and Mr. Vice. Also, all the guests were known as the "mess."

We were called to order by the President of the Mess, Col. Keith Balts, 30th SW commander, who gave his opening remarks. Colors were posted and the national anthem was sung.

Next, a series of toasts were offered to various parties including the guest of honor, Commander in Chief, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, and to the fallen members of the military. While the event had some somber moments, portions of the event became quite humorous in nature.

With a spoon in hand, I tapped it against the table to express approval for the rather entertaining events that were unfolding before my eyes, because "clapping of thine hands will not be tolerated."

Dining Out follows the same basic rules of the dining-in, but it also allows for us to share our traditions with our civilian guests.

According to www.militarywives.com, "The Air Force dining-in custom probably began in the 1930s with the late General H. 'Hap' Arnold's 'wing-dings.' The close bonds enjoyed by Air Corps officers and their British colleagues of the Royal Air Force during World War II surely added to the American involvement in the dining-in custom.

"The dining-in has served the Air Force well as an occasion for officers to meet socially at a formal military function. It enhances the esprit of units, lightens the load of demanding day-to-day work, gives the commander an opportunity to meet socially with his or her subordinates and enables military members of all ranks to create bonds of friendship and better working relations through an atmosphere of good fellowship."

After the traditional dinner, we heard from guest speaker Lt. Gen. Larry D. James, deputy director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and former 14th Air Force Air commander. James gave an insider view of the history of space, speaking of its past, present, and future.

My first Dining Out served as a learning experience. The Air Force's traditions, legacy, and heritage can and will not be forgotten, for in order to presently stand proud in the uniform I wear, I first needed to understand where the Air Force's traditions came from.

As the formal event drew to a close, the President gave closing comments, adjourned the mess, and the dance floor opened up. Members of the head table were among the first to hit the dance floor along with most of the mess.

As I walked towards the dance floor I remembered the last rule of the mess, "thou shalt enjoy thyself to the fullest," and so I did.