Army’s formal birthday ball a sequester casualty


A scene from the 2002 Army ball: Pentagon 9/11 survivor Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell shakes hands with Jack Tilley, sergeant major of the Army. (Rebecca D'Angelo)

This year, sequestration and tight fiscal times are playing the spoiler, at least for the Army, which has cancelled its fancy-dress Birthday Ball because of the budget cuts, according to a recent memo from Army Secretary John McHugh and General Raymond Odierno.

“Due to the uncertain Fiscal Year 2013 funding caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long continuing resolution and sequestration, along with the need to protect funding for wartime operations, we are cancelling the HQDA Army Birthday Ball scheduled for 15 June 2013,” the killjoy memo states. “This action supports the department’s overall effort to reduce spending of appropriated funds.”

Which means there’ll be no soldiers in formal dress adorned with medals. No dancing in the Washington Hilton ballroom, no women in gowns, no toasts.

The event is usually one of the social highlights of the year for hundreds of Army soldiers and spouses; last year’s bash featured musical performances by a jazz band from Howard University and by the group “World Class Rockers,” which includes former members of Journey, Boston, Santana, Steppenwolf and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Even though the big party is kaput, the Army plans to mark its 238th birthday with other, more modest events, the memo notes, including gatherings at Mount Vernon and on Capitol Hill, a cake-cutting ceremony at the Pentagon, and a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery.

No formal gowns needed.

An Army spokesman said canceling the event would save $400,000.

Still, the fiscal straits haven’t stopped other military formal dos, like the Navy-Marine Corps ball — one of the military’s best-known galas — which was held on March 23. The ball was held by the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, which is a private, nonprofit charitable organization.

(Note: An earlier version of this story suggested that the Navy-Marine Corps ball was taxpayer-funded. The story has been corrected.)

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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