(And for the record - AOD is Aircraft Operations Division - it's the division at NASA in charge of all the planes.)
I will admit that some of this event is shrouded in secrecy :) But most of it you can find info about on the internet. Dislaimer - I have copied most of this information from a "Letter of Instruction" about the event that Ken wrote by swiping most of the info from a formal Dining Out Letter of Instruction for the Military. The AOD one was slightly modified to fit the needs of the group.
Background. Historically, officers have enjoyed each other’s company at dinner, and on special occasions, have arranged elaborate formal affairs appropriate to group participation. The custom of celebrating special occasions, or events in a unit’s history, is the forerunner to the formal Dining-Out. A well planned and executed formal Dining-Out should enhance unit esprit de corps, provide for a pleasant evening’s association among aircrew and their spouses, and, due to the formality of the event, add an air of dignity commensurate to the character, bearing and mission of the unit.
1. The term “Mess Night,” like so many service traditions comes to us from the British. The dignity and elegance of a formal dinner by the Mess for its members and their guests became uncommon when the US Navy and NASA abolished the use of alcoholic beverages on board sea ships and space ships in 1914 and 2007, respectively. Though recently revived in an effort to preserve tradition, the custom of intrepid warriors, raiders and explorers and their guests dining as a Mess or “Dining-Out,” is as old as the longship and battle ax. A “Dining-Out” is NOT a “Dining-In!” Many of the customs observed in the Mess during a typical “Dining-In” are, for reasons of propriety, not followed at a “Dining-Out.” Since the general plan is similar,, however, the following paragraphs and subsequent enclosures will assist each member, spouse, and guest in understanding the proceedings.
2. “Mess Nights” had their inception in the earliest military victory celebrations. In the opening centuries of the Christian Era, they took their first step toward stylized format in the revels of the Viking clans on the occasion of their return from successful raids and forays against distant shores. These celebrations saw all clan male members present, with the exception of the lookout or watch. Feats of strength and skill were performed to entertain the members and guests. The leader took his place at the head of the board, with all others to the right and left in descending order of rank. Those of the clan that did not participate in the raid were seated below the salt, and did not share in the disposition of the spoils. Warriors who conducted themselves with valor or distinction were “guests for the evening.” In that way, they were seated closer to the leader than their rank normally entitled them. These “guests” customarily received a bonus from the share of the leader for their deeds.
3. The celebrations of the Vikings were great feasts where vast quantities of food and drink were served. Down through the millennium since the heyday of the Norsemen, the practice of recognizing and perpetuating the anniversaries of significant battles and feats of outstanding heroes by formal ceremony became adopted as the natural outgrowth of the special camaraderie of those that go in harm’s way.
4. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell took over the government of England on the execution of Charles I. The royal successor, James I, was in exile on the continent. Thus, it came to pass that certain subterfuges developed in the military among those officers that remained loyal to the crown. Water goblets formally remained on the table during the toasts, and the officers who were loyal to the uncrowned king always passed their wine over the water in the goblet. In this manner, they were secretly and silently saluting the Royal Exile, who was “over the water.” When the clandestine homage was exposed, the least of the consequences was the removal of water goblets prior to passing the port, a custom that remains with us today.
5. A “Dining-Out” is a ceremony as old and as rich as the traditions of the quarterdeck or the mounting of the guard, and as essential to a close knit, smoothly performing flying organization, as are landing with fuel in the tank, achieving a timely rendezvous, and leading, following or staying out of the way. Throughout the messes of the world, military men and women, civil servants and contractors meet to honor their units, ships, standards and their dead. It is significant to note, irrespective of nationality, that these ceremonies vary in form only so much as do the traditions of the units. It can not be too strongly emphasized that this ceremony is not a party in any sense, but is likened to honors, for it is the purpose to solemnly pay tribute to all of those intangibles for, and by which, the unit stands. The ceremony ends with the lighting of the lamp, at which time an air of affability prevails.
And here's a wikipedia link about it....
Got more questions? Ask away because there is just way too many potential topics to type without some questions :)