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A mess (also called a messdeck aboard ships) is an area where military personnel socialize, eat, and (in some cases) live. In some societies this military usage has extended to other disciplined services eateries such as civilian fire fighting and police forces. The root of mess is the Old French mes, "portion of food" (cf. modern French mets), drawn from the Latin verb mittere, meaning "to send" and "to put" (cf. modern French mettre), the original sense being "a course of a meal put on the table"; cfr. also the modern Italian portata with the same meaning, past participle of portare, to bring. This sense of mess, which appeared in English in the 13th century, was often used for cooked or liquid dishes in particular, as in the "mess of pottage" (porridge or soup). By the 15th century, a group of people who ate together were also called a mess, and it is this sense that persists in the "mess halls" of the modern military.
Messing in the Canadian Forces generally follows the British model (see United Kingdom below), from whom most traditions have descended. Basic regulations regarding the establishment and administration of messes is contained in the Queen's Regulations and Orders and the Canadian Forces Administrative Orders.
As in the British Forces, there are normally three messes: the Officers' Mess (called the Wardroom in Naval establishments), for commissioned officers and officer cadets; the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess (Navy: Chiefs' and Petty Officers' Mess), for senior non-commissioned officers and warrant officers; and the Junior Ranks Mess, for junior non-commissioned officers, privates, and seamen. Some bases, such as CFB Kingston in the 1980s, had a Master Corporals' Mess separate from the Junior Ranks'; all of these, with the exception of the CFB Valcartier Master Corporals mess (known as the "Mess des chefs"), have since been amalgamated with the Junior Ranks' Messes. Certain other bases, mainly training establishments such as HMCS Venture have messes known as the Gun Room for the use of subordinate officers (Naval or Officer Cadets).
Most bases and stations have three messes (officers', warrant officers' and sergeants', and junior janks'). Many of these establishments have lodger units (such as air squadrons, army regiments, etc.) who also have their own messes. All of Her Majesty's Canadian ships have three messes aboard; this extends to Naval Reserve Divisions and other Naval shore establishments which bear the title HMCS (see stone frigate). Due to limited budgets and declining revenues, many messes have been forced to close or amalgamate: for example, at CFS St. John's, the junior ranks' mess of the Newfoundland Militia District closed, its members moving to the station's junior ranks'; the station's officers' mess and warrant officers' and sergeants' mess later amalgamated.
Headdress is not worn in Canadian messes, except:
- by personnel on duty, such as a duty or watch officer, or the military police;
- as permitted on special occasions, such as during costume parties, theme events, etc.;
- by personnel for whom wearing headgear is mandatory (e.g. for religious reasons).
All Canadian Forces personnel, regular and reserve, must belong to a mess, and are termed ordinary members of their particular mess. Although normally on federal property, messes have been ordered to comply with the legal drinking age laws of their province; for example, an 18-year-old soldier may legally consume alcohol in a Quebec mess, but not in one in Ontario, where the legal age is 19 years. However, despite being underage, the soldier may not be prohibited entry into the mess.
Canadian Forces personnel are normally welcome in any mess of their appropriate rank group, regardless of element; thus a Regimental Sergeant-Major of an Infantry battalion is welcome in a Chiefs' and Petty Officers' Mess (inter-service rivalries notwithstanding). Personnel of a different rank (except as noted below) must ask for permission to enter; that may be granted by the President of the Mess Committee, his designate, or the senior member present.
These restrictions are normally waived on certain special occasions, when the messes are "opened" to all personnel, regardless of rank. These occasions may include (and will be locally published by the Mess Committee):
The commanding officer of the establishment or unit that owns the mess is permitted access to all his messes; thus a ship's captain has access to his vessel's chiefs' and petty officers' mess, the commanding officer of a regiment may enter any of his regimental messes, and the base commander of a Canadian Forces Base is welcome in any of his base's messes. In practice, commanding officers rarely enter anything other than the officers' mess unless invited, as a point of etiquette. In addition, duty personnel — such as a duty NCO or officer of the watch — or the military police have access to any and all messes for the purposes of maintaining good order and discipline. Chaplains are usually welcomed in all messes.
As in the UK, Canadian messes are run by the mess committee, a group democratically elected by the members of the mess. One exception is on warships, where the president of the junior ranks mess is appointed by the commanding officer. The committee members are generally the same as those of their British counterparts, with the addition of special representatives for such things as sports, housing, morale, etc. These positions are normally spelled out in the mess constitution, which sets out the bylaws, regulations, and guidelines for such things as conduct of mess meetings, associate memberships, dress regulations within the mess, or booking of the mess by civilian organizations. The constitution and any amendments are voted upon by the members of the mess.
The Federal German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) differentiates between three different mess areas.
1. HBG (Heimbetriebsgesellschaft) - More commonly called Enlisted Mess (Mannschaftsheim), it is common for most bases to have one, where food and drink can be purchased. Newspapers and in some cases equipment and souvenirs such as key chains may also be available. There is generally no strict regulation of conduct, even though access is not limited to enlisted personnel, and NCOs or officers may also be present, ensuring a more regulated conduct.
2. UHG (Unteroffiizierheim or Unteroffizierheimgesellschaft) (Gesellschaft lit. society) - Also called UK (NCO Comradeship/Unteroffizierkameradschaft) - Noncommissioned Officers' Mess: this is the area where NCOs can dine or spend their evenings. As opposed to the HBG, the UHG has a constitution, bylaws and a board. Access is usually restricted to NCOs, while officers can gain entry, even though it is usually frowned upon by the NCOs. Some bases have a joint NCO and Officers' Mess.
3. OHG (Officers' Mess/Offizierheimgesellschaft) - Also called Casino (Kasino or Offizierkasino). Much like the UHG, the Kasino also has a constitution, bylaws and a board. Gentlemanly conduct is mandatory. For instance upon entering the main hall, officers are expected to stand at attention and perform a small bow. Additionally, veterans' meeting are usually held either in a UHG or in a Kasino. As with the UHG, Kasinos have permanent personnel, as a general rule enlisted men, called Ordonnanzen, a military term for waiter or barman. Some Kasinos have grand pianos, and hold recitals, as well as having music played during luncheons or dinners. Official events such as balls and unofficial events such as weddings, informational events and the like, are held here.
The German Navy call their messes 'Messe', with the distinction Offiziermesse. The land based messes are also called Offiziermesse.
The Indian Army follows a system similar to the British. A typical regiment/unit would have three messes, one for the commissioned officers, one for the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and one for the NCOs. Havildars/Daffadars (equivalent to Sergeants) are considered to be NCOs. The Air Force, however has an SNCO (Sr. NCO) mess for Warrant Officers and sergeants, while lower-ranking NCOs would be members of the NCO's mess.
In the officer's mess and the JCO's mess, there also is rank of Mess Havildar. A Mess Havildar is a senior NCO who manages and executes the day-to-day activities of the mess.
On Republic Day (Jan 26) the JCOs are formally invited for cocktails at the Officers mess. This is reciprocated on Independence Day (Aug 15) by the JCOs at the JCOs Mess.
In the Israeli Navy, although Hebrew speaking, dining rooms on the Missile Boats, Dolphin submarines, and the kitchen in the Patrol Boats are named Messes, Crew Mess and Officers' Mess. Also, every special meal brought by a crewmember, say celebrating a birthday or a rank promotion, is called Mess.
On a naval or military establishment there are usually two or three Messes:
- The Officers' Mess, for Commissioned Officers;
- The Chief Petty Officer's or Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess, for Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) and Warrant Officers (WOs);
- The Junior Rates' or Corporals Mess (JRM), for Junior NCOs (this latter is less universal than the former two)
Officers and SNCOs are required under Queen's Regulations to be a member of a mess and unmarried members usually live, eat, and socialise in them. The JNCOs mess if established is normally used for socialising only, JNCOs usually being accommodated in barrack blocks eating in the cookhouse alongside private soldiers and able rates. Depending on circumstance, such as lack of finance or space, some regiments may have a JNCO "club" instead of a proper mess. Members of their mess are also required to pay a subscription fee for supplies and upkeep. The amount is decided upon by the commanding officer within the limits stipulated by the Regulations.
Soldiers, sailors or air personnel are welcome in any Mess for their rank or equivalent, should they be away from their home unit, as long as they are paying dues in at least one mess. For the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess the highest ranking (normally the RSM) member is known as the Presiding Member.
A Mess is run by the Mess Committee, a group democratically elected by the members of the Mess (except Wardrooms), but normally agreed by the CO or RSM.
- President of the Mess Committee (PMC) - (Officers' Mess) or Chairman of the Mess Committee (Sergeants'/Petty Officers' Mess)
- Vice President of the Mess Committee (Mr Vice), who is responsible for toasts during Mess Dinners. He or she is rarely the deputy of the PMC (normally this is the Secretary) but instead the most junior person in the Mess.
- Secretary (Sec), who is responsible for records and minutes, etc.
- Wines Member, who is responsible for keeping the bar stocked.
- House Member, who is responsible for furniture and infrastructure.
- Entertainments (Ents) Member, for any special events or parties in the mess.
Some messes also have a Senior Living-In Member (SLIM) who represents the living-in members and supervises their conduct.
The Commanding Officer (CO) of the unit has right of veto over the mess, and any changes or events must have his approval. The CO is allowed into any Mess (because they are legally all his), but it is often considered an abuse of power, unbecoming conduct or disturbing the order for a CO to drink in a lower rank mess, except when invited on special occasions.
The Officers' Mess in a Royal Navy ship or base is called the Wardroom. Associated with the Wardoom is a Gunroom, the mess for Midshipmen and occasionally junior Sub-Lieutenants. The Captain of a vessel is not normally a member of the Wardroom, which is always run by the first lieutenant or Executive Officer (XO), thereby known as the Mess President ("Mess Prez"). This post is part of the job of being a ship's XO. Other committee members are generally appointed (voluntarily or otherwise) by the XO.
Mess dress is the military term for the formal evening dress worn in the mess or at other formal occasions. It is also known as mess kit. Mess dress would be worn at occasions requiring white tie or black tie.
In the United States Army, officers historically have had to purchase their own food using funds allocated to each officer. In the far-flung forts of the American Old West, officers would organize their food service in two ways:
- "Closed Mess" was when the few officers of a small fort would pool all of their food funds to provide all meals to members only, thus being "closed" to outsiders except as guests.
- In a larger post, the larger pool of officers could allow the officers to purchase meals on an individual meal basis (after payment of a small monthly dues amount). Such arrangements were called "Open Messes".
The mess now is called a dining facility (DFAC). The Officers' Club ("O Club") is an outgrowth comparable to the Officers' Open Mess, but also providing areas to allow officers to entertain guests. A similar version for enlisted personnel is the "E Club". Mess also describes the formal affair of having a "dining in", held for military members and closed to the public, or a "dining out", a social event for military personnel and their families.
At most United States Navy shore installations, galleys (previously called Enlisted Dining Facilities in the 1970s and early 1980s) provide messing for sailors ashore and as an option for sailors aboard ships while in port at those installations. Ashore, Enlisted Clubs for sailors in the grade of Petty Officer First Class (E-6) and below; Chief Petty Officer Clubs for CPOs (E-7), SCPOs (E-8) and MCPOs (E-9); and Officers' Clubs for commissioned officers also exist, although many have been closed, merged into combination Enlisted/CPO, or converted into "all hands" facilities. These changes would have been made following the end of DoD budgetary subsidies for all such clubs in the 1990s and the subsequent need for these clubs to be financially self-sufficient.  Further impacting the Navy is the fact that most naval units deploy for extended periods on a regular basis with, especially for shipboard personnel, concurrent membership in a ship's CPO Mess or officers' wardroom.
At sea aboard naval vessels, messing is still separate, with E-6 and below utilizing the ship's mess decks, E-7 through E-9 utilizing the ship's CPO Mess, and commissioned officers being part of the wardroom. Many ships also include a First Class Mess for E-6. This is considered a chance for future CPOs to learn how to be a part of a mess before they enter the "goat locker." Enlisted personnel normally receive all meals at what appears to be no cost, but in fact subsidize their meals through forfeiture of their Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), also called "commuted rations," although Chief Petty Officers may also have a mess "buy in" and/or monthly mess bill equivalent to the BAS. Officers retain their BAS, but pay for all meals out of pocket. This usually entails a mess "buy in" as a member of the officers' mess and will typically have either a monthly mess bill or will purchase meals via some sort of debit card.
U.S. Air Force
Social clubs on United States Air Force installations were at one time called Open Messes, even though most were known in vernacular as Officers Clubs or NCO clubs. Those for officers were able to utilize their initials as colorful acronyms, among the more well-known of which in the 1960s and 1970s were Zaragosa and Zweibrücken (ZOOM), Danang (DOOM), Ramstein (ROOM), and Korat Air Bases or Kirtland Air Force Base (KABOOM), Randolph AFB (Auger Inn) and Nellis AFB (Robin's Nest), with the nicknames usually ascribed to those facilities' casual bars versus the entire club.
At one time, each squadron had its club, but these disappeared after World War II and the club became a facility of a base rather than a unit. Most are now officially referred to as officer or enlisted clubs; the term "mess" or "officers' open mess having largely disappeared from the Air Force lexicon. Though a few bases (usually major training bases) have separate Airmen's Clubs for junior enlisted and NCO Clubs for noncommissioned officers, this is no longer normally the case. Physically separate Officers' Clubs are still the norm; however, smaller Air Force installations may have one consolidated club with separate lounges. Membership is voluntary, though highly encouraged for senior NCOs and officers. Most NCO and Officers Clubs contain a sit-down restaurant in addition to social lounges, meeting/dining rooms, and bars.
Mess halls in the USAF, where unmarried junior enlisted residing in the dormitories are expected to eat, are officially referred to as "dining facilities," but are colloquially called "chow halls," although dining facility workers traditionally take offense at the term.
U.S. Marine Corps
In the United States Marine Corps, enlisted dining facilities ashore are commonly referred to as 'galleys' or 'chow halls.' When embarked aboard naval vessels, enlisted Marines and NCOs in the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and below will use the same mess decks as sailors in the grade of Petty Officer First Class (E-6) and below, while Staff NCOs in the rank of Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) and above will take meals in the Chief Petty Officers (CPO) Mess. Separate enlisted, NCO and officers clubs continue to exist at Marine Corps shore installations, following the Navy model of enlisted, CPO and officers clubs.
Marine Clubs have also been in decline. According to an article by USA today:
- "Alcohol deglamorization in the late '80s started the decline," says Carol Garland, head of the Marine Corps' Food and Hospitality, Personal and Family Readiness Division. "(Congressionally) appropriated funds to support the operation of clubs, including managers, were greatly reduced. Without appropriated funds, clubs had to be self-supporting businesses." 
U.S. Coast Guard
The United States Coast Guard follows the US Navy model in terms of messing facilities afloat and ashore in terms of the demarcation of galleys for E-6 and below, CPO Messes for E-7 through E-9, and wardrooms for commissioned officers. The only exception is that, given its small size, there are very few Coast Guard clubs aboard Coast Guard installations and those that do exist are typically "all hands" facilities.
- "VBNB60860 - Clubs and associations: general information about service messes and service funds for junior ranks". HM Revenue and Customs. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
- Copeland, Larry, "Military officers' clubs near extinction", USA Today, August 3, 2009, p. 3.
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