Twenty-six Marines clustered in their dress blues around the entrance to a beige building tucked behind the airfield at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
As dozens of targets approached the group, some of the Marines looked to one another for guidance. They hadn't trained for this situation, and it wasn't a drill.
Yet, as their targets closed in, the Marines fell in line, smiles spreading across their faces.
"May I escort you, ma'am?" each Marine asked, before linking arms with one of the more than 200 senior citizens who came for Sunday's 45th annual Senior Tea, hosted by the Officers' Spouses' Club.
"It's just a really sweet event," said Alex Leung, club president. "This is a tradition that's been going on for a very, very long time. Lots of these folks come from hospice or don't have much family around anymore, so it's a good opportunity to get them out and treat them to something special."
The club's annual Christmas tradition is its marquee event -- raising awareness for the group's efforts, such as offering scholarships to children of Marines, and giving the club and Marine families a chance to give back to the community, Leung said.
For attendees, the party is a fun way to catch up with old friends, and perhaps even score one of the dozens of raffled baskets of presents assembled by the air station's squadrons.
Sandy Spears has attended the Senior Tea for most of the past 20 years with her husband, Charlie, who spent eight of his 30 years in the Marine Corps at the local air station. They say they enjoy the presents and the chance to mingle with friends they don't often see.
"The handsome Marine escorts are nice, too," Sandy Spears added, laughing.
"I've been with (Charlie) for 53 years, but it's nice to throw in a young man like that every now and then," she teased.
The afternoon included tea, sandwiches, cookies and performances from the University of South Carolina Beaufort children's choir, the Beaufort Academy of Dance and the Beaufort Harbormasters barbershop chorus.
"What a superb tradition this is to have here," said Col. Peter Buck, the air station's commanding officer. "This is the biggest event the (Officers' Spouses' Club) does all year, and I'm so pleased you're all here to celebrate it."
Buck was joined by special guests Mayor Billy Keyserling, former City Councilwoman Donnie Beer, Naval Hospital commanding officer Capt. Anne Lear and the air station's Marine Air Group commanding officer Col. William Lieblein, the master of ceremonies.
The tea party continues to grow each year, too, said Leung and Katrina Givan, who organized it last year.
"Once you come one time and you see the joy on these seniors' faces, you've just got to do it again," Givan said.
One woman who attended told Givan last year that 17 years ago she moved to Texas, where the nearby Marine Corps station didn't host an annual Senior Tea, Givan said. Last year, the woman moved back to a senior-living center in Beaufort and, despite her immediate family having left the area, fell right back in stride with old friends at the Senior Tea, Givans said.
Over the years, the annual celebration has fostered many such stories, which put a smile on Anne Hirschmann's face. In the 1960s, she led the first Spouses' Club committee to host a Senior Tea and has attended all 45 parties since.
"It's unbelievable, it's grown so much," she said. "You know what the best part is? Having the Marines in dress blues meeting you."