Spooktacular haunted house

Capt. Penny Cromwell, left, and Sgt. Petagay Anthony get into the Halloween spirit as they help construct Operational Test Command's Creepy Haunted House. The unit’s employees and family members have been volunteering for more than a week to set up the command's first haunted house event scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday.

U.S. Army/Larry Furnace

The testers of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command are hanging up their science and technology expertise for one evening so they can celebrate Halloween with a haunted house full of vampires, witches, dead pirates, ghouls and even a mad tester.

The command’s family readiness group will host the “Creepy Haunted House,” located in Trailer 12 at the crossroads of Station Avenue and Warehouse on West Fort Hood. It is open to everyone, including the faint of heart, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday. Halloween-themed refreshments, children’s crafts and a children’s costume contest will be available from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Heritage Room, just a stone’s throw away from Trailer 12, said Carla Anthony, an administrative assistant and lead volunteer for the command.

“Our haunted house will have an autopsy room and morgue, dead pirate’s cove, Dracula’s tomb, potions cellar with a bubbling cauldron, dead tester’s cubicle, spider witch and cave, and a very creepy graveyard,” she said. “Not only are soldiers and Department of the Army civilians volunteering to set this up, but family members also have been out here working since last weekend.”

Anthony said her family has gone all out to support the haunted house, with her husband and daughter Kristina portraying an evil doctor and his equally evil lab assistant. Her other daughter, Jasmyne, is going to be Mrs. Frankenstein.

“We’re hoping for an appropriately macabre setting with glass beakers that distort images and growing body parts that glow in the dark,” she said.

For Capt. Penny Cromwell, Mission Command Test Directorate test officer, helping kick off the first-ever haunted house at the command was a no-brainer for her.

“I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater, and I’ve always loved haunted houses,” she said. “I’ve set up, assisted, provided make-up application, made costumes, organized fun runs and baked treats for trick-or-treaters for countless events from Fort Gordon to Germany and even Afghanistan.

“I think it’s always fun to get people out of their comfort zone,” Cromwell said, “whether it’s in a costume or scaring someone or being scared.”

The command’s protocol officer, Sonya James-Stewart, brought her son, Kehoness, to help build the dead pirate’s cove. “He had a ball,” she said. “He honestly thought he was going to be doing all the cleanup, and when he found out he was actually going to build the pirate’s set, he had a blast.

“I just pitched in wherever I was needed,” James-Stewart said. “The best part to me was spending time with my son.”

The idea for a haunted house was a result of the command’s leadership looking for ways to build its family program, according to Aloha Valverde, family programs assistant.

“We are trying to incorporate different events this year,” she said. “We started with the Back to School Bash and organization day at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area. We decided to offer a haunted house so we could target all audiences, and it’s different than what we’ve done in the past, which was a trunk or treat.”

Other volunteers who spent the weekend constructing the haunted house included Sgt. Kathryn McElhannon, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division; Capt. and Mrs. Michael Harris, Maneuver Support and Sustainment Test Directorate; Eva Gunn, Mission Command Test Directorate; Capt. Romelo Delossantos, commander of the command’s Headquarters and Headquarters Command; and the entire Anthony family.

“Sgt. McElhannon is a friend of mine and was eager to volunteer,” Cromwell said. “She is going to cook for us — things like yummy zombie vomit (green and white chili), boiled brains (meat chili without beans) and other theme food and beverages to augment the creepiness of our haunted house.

“Being in a command that comprises mostly senior military and civilians, I think it will be refreshing to see younger children participate,” she said.

There are still opportunities for volunteers to help out, according to Delossantos. “This is a great opportunity for teenagers to get volunteer hours they need for school,” he said. “They can just bring their school volunteer paperwork, and we’ll sign off on it so they’ll get credit.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or attending the command’s haunted house can get additional information by calling Delossantos at (254) 288-9050, or Valverde at (254) 288-9645.

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