OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
On Halloween, nearly 430 people from Exmouth – a town of about 2,000 located on Western Australia’s Northwest coast – visited a haunted house built by Airmen from 2nd Weather Squadron’s Detachment 1.
The popularity of the detachment’s haunted house is underscored by the fact that Australia isn’t known for celebrating Halloween, however, its popularity has been on the rise in recent years.
The Airmen of Detachment 1 operate the Air Force’s only solar observatory in the Southern Hemisphere, monitoring the sun using optical and radio telescopes. They watch for solar flares and other dangerous space weather phenomenon that can disrupt communications and damage satellites and infrastructure on Earth.
The United States and Australia have operated the Learmonth Solar Observatory as partners since April 1979. This long-lasting relationship led to Halloween becoming a tradition in the community.
“Each year Detachment 1 builds a haunted house and hosts a trick-or-treating event,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Dooley, 2nd WS NCO in charge of operations. “There is a different theme each year and the event is loved by the local community and the members and families stationed there.”
Where Halloween in the U.S. brings images of trick-or-treaters walking door to door in autumn, conditions are different in Western Australia. Oct. 31 occurs in spring, with Learmonth experiencing temperatures in the mid-80s. Due to the longer daylight hours, families who participate in trick-or-treating will often place balloons on their front doors rather than turn on the porch light.
The event was a bilateral operation with a zombie theme. In addition to the American service members and their spouses, the haunted house included members of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and a local student. The makeup artist was a member of the Australian Federal Police.
“Many who have family who live in Perth – a two hour flight away – will arrange for their families to come up explicitly to do the American Halloween thing and to walk through the haunted house,” said Master Sgt. Kasie Pond, detachment chief of 2nd WS Detachment 1 in Learmonth. “I’ve had so many people that are in their 30s tell me about how they celebrated Halloween as a child with the U.S. Military and they are excited to share it with their kids too because trick-or-treating is not something that is celebrated around Australia.”
Attendees ranged in age from toddlers to people in their 60s. Pond described the atmosphere of the event.
“Easiest way we’ve been able to describe it to Americans is to try and remember how trick-or-treating was in the 80s,” Pond said. “Everyone’s a lot friendlier and appreciative of the effort you went into making your homemade costume and you don’t feel less than if you didn’t buy the best pre-made.”
One challenge was getting candy for the event. Local stores don’t sell Halloween candy and the closest large town, Perth, is almost 800 miles away. Dooley headed up the 557th Weather Wing’s effort to support the event.
“The wing helps out Det 1 by holding a drive each year to collect candy, supplies, decorations, and toys,” Dooley said. “Halloween is not as a big of a holiday in Australia and the members at Det 1 have difficulties finding candy, supplies, decorations, etc., so they rely on us to provide that for them. We hold a drive locally within the 557th, as well as share Det 1's Amazon wish list so that people can send items directly to the Det.”
This year’s collection netted 120 pounds of candy – over 6,200 pieces – as well as decorations, toys and other supplies. Donations were also received from the American Embassy in Sydney and the Red Cross at Yokota Air Base in Japan.
“Everyone is very excited to get the American lollies – what they call candy – plus our chocolates taste different and the brands we have are different,” Pond said. “People are very keen to go to the American House early on before we run out.”
For the residents of Exmouth, obtaining Halloween costumes also proved challenging. There are no big box stores selling pre-made costumes, Pond said, many of the costumes were homemade. Popular choices included witches, zombies and vampires.