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UNC Air Force ROTC ball hosted Brig. Gen. Robert Thomas

The annual UNC Air Force ROTC Dining-In ball is an event steeped in tradition — and this year’s ball featured an appearance by a venerated guest.

The U.S. Holm Center Commander, Brig. Gen. Robert Thomas, was the keynote speaker at the military ball held Friday night at the Carolina Inn.

“It’s important for me as the commander in charge of all ROTC programs to come out and see things at the cadet level,” he said.

“If you’re not careful, you can get trapped behind a desk and miss what’s really happening.”

The Holm Center leads the training of the 16,000 Air Force ROTC cadets at colleges around the nation, as well as the 120,000 cadets in the Junior ROTC.

More than 70 percent of the Air Force’s officers come from Holm Center programs.

Choosing from the 145 colleges with ROTC programs, Thomas said he accepted UNC’s invitation because of the importance of getting cadet feedback and the ability to visit Duke University as well.

Initially, Thomas worried that the governmental sequestration would prevent him from attending the event. But he said he is optimistic the ROTC program will not face serious cuts as a result of the sequestration.

In his speech, Thomas spoke about the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all they do.

He also reflected on his own basic training experiences to explain how today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders.

“These students will one day be generals making high-end and critical decisions.”

The ball — a traditional way for units to bond in a formal setting — also featured some videos aimed at general entertainment.

A video summarized the cadets’ work and motivations for joining the ROTC.

“The annual ball is a way to commemorate and celebrate the year’s hard work,” said Christian Ehrisman, the event’s public relations representative.

A slideshow of poignant pictures also captured the growth of the group’s four seniors from grade schoolers to college students.

Attendees said the most entertaining of the night’s events was the traditional drinking of the grog bowl.

Everyone mixed a concoction of beverages into a punch bowl and threw out rhymed slams, calling on cadets who violated the ROTC code to toast to the mess with a drink from the grog.

Sophomore Nolan Kirkwood, a member of UNC’s ROTC program, said the night offered a rare chance for them to break from their normal routine of hard work and drills.

“It’s good for us to have a night to come together, have fun and be a little more relaxed than usual,” he said.

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