Trick or treat? It's Halloween in the desert, and that means pumpkins, parties and haunted tents for some American soldiers.
"Being here is kind of a Halloween in itself," cracked Staff Sgt. Charles Willis, 37, of St. Louis, Mo., an army computer repair expert who arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 1.Master Sgt. James Parsons, 37, of Brigham City, Utah, said he began his trick or treating on the plane to Saudi Arabia.
"The trick was to get here with 1 1/2 hours sleep, and the treat was arriving," he said.
For the more than 200,000 American troops in the gulf under Operation Desert Shield, Halloween is the first festival away from home, and some units have tried to get in the spirit though others are too busy and have ignored it.
American-style trick or treating from door-to-door is out of the question in Saudi Arabia, but some GIs are reported planning Bedouin-style visitations - tent-to-tent.
At an airbase in eastern Saudi Arabia, a large pumpkin with a smiling red-painted face sits atop sandbag fortifications along the runway, greeting the latest additions to the multinational force arrayed against Iraq.
"Come out here tomorrow night and you'll see the biggest Halloween party in the desert," Maj. Wally G. Vaughn, 35, of Sumter, S.C., told reporters Tuesday.
The Air Lift Control Element at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, which is throwing the party, bought a pumpkin here. Local supermarkets are selling four-pound pumpkins for about $8.
Staff Sgt. Jeff Durkin, 26, a communications specialist, said some men in his unit had set up "a haunted house," actually a haunted tent using "special equipment." He refused to elaborate.
"We've got skeletons, jack-o'-lanterns. I've even seen some Christmas lights," he said.
Airman 1st Class Eric Hagen, 23, from St. Louis, Mo., said: "One of the tents went bananas and put up `cobwebs' " made out of Christmas tree decorations.
"One guy got a package from home with a little pumpkin," he said.
But for Willis and many other soldiers, Halloween was just another working day in the Saudi desert. About 210,000 U.S. troops have been sent to the Persian Gulf region since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
"We're thinking about it, but nobody's really planning on it. Working 12 hours on, 12 off, two days on, one day off, it makes it kind of hard," he said.
"They do have a few air balloons hanging up in our tent, ghosts and bats and stuff," Willis said. "I haven't seen any pumpkins. I've seen a watermelon - if that comes close. I don't know if we can carve a watermelon."
Sgt. Kerry Wilkerson, 25, of Dallas, said his unit, the 595th Medical Company from Ft. Devon, Mass., was so busy setting up operations that "they haven't done anything for Halloween yet."
Heading back to Germany after temporary duty here, Staff Sgt. Michael Walthers, 26, said: "I'll miss Halloween. Germany isn't big on Halloween. I'll be home for Thanksgiving and that's what's important."