It's that wonderful time of year when veterans, their friends, and their families go out to enjoy a little spooky fun around town. They'll have fun with the decorations, getting into goofy costumes, and, overall, just enjoying the spirit of the season — but there's just one place veterans tend to avoid: haunted houses.
We don't avoid these because of their intended scariness — far from it. Veterans just don't seem to have the same reaction as most civilians. We tend to have one of three reactions to being put in what is, essentially, a guided maze filled with actors dressed like our favorite monsters: Either we're way too in to how cool what's going on around us is, we just can't suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it, or, well, we'll get to the last one in a minute.
1. We aren't scared the same way
Once you've spent some time in the military, certain things just don't scare you the same way. I'm not saying that seeing someone dressed as a distressed clown brandishing a chainsaw (with the teeth taken out for safety) isn't objectively terrifying — it definitely is.
But veterans spent years learning how to always switch their "fight or flight" response in one direction. Once you've done your time, that response never really shuts off. You may not be fighting every monster you see, but you're not going to run through the haunted house like most guests.
Perfect for war! Terrible for Halloween fun...
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justis Beauregard)
2. Our attention to detail overshadows the rest of the "fun"
We keep level heads and analyze every tiny detail of what's going on while others are cowering. We notice the tiny things. This works absolute wonders in haunted escape rooms — but that same cannot be said for haunted houses.
You'll look for and find things that break the immersion. You'll stop admiring/being spooked out by all of the scary stuff and simply get through the thing like there's some kind of reward at the end — there isn't. The experience of the haunted house was the reward.
Then again, having attention to detail is never fun...
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Ronald Bailey, 100th Missile Defense Brigade Public Affairs)
3. We will use room-clearing techniques as we go through
There're only so many spots for actors to hide throughout a maze: behind that door, at the end of the hallway, behind all those curtains. Coincidentally, these are the exact same spots that most veterans remember from room-clearing drills.
The ideology is the same, but instead of jumping out to attack a squad of infantrymen, the haunted house actors are just trying to help you celebrate the Halloween spirit. It actually gets a bit disappointing when the veteran thinks to themselves, "if I were them, I'd totally set up an ambush point here at the funnel of death," only to realize the actors didn't get your memo.
You might also get asked to leave if you stack your family by sector of fire they'd take as they enter the room.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Devon Tindle)
4. We will one-up creepy moments with real-life stuff
There's a certain expectation that guests at haunted houses will suspend disbelief enough to allow themselves to be scared and enjoy the experience. That kind of goes out the window when you can't help but notice that the "blood" splotches on the walls don't really line up with how arterial blood would actually spew out of that "zombie's" neck.
That's fine and all, but it ruins the fun for the other people in your party. Nobody really wants to hear us say, "oh, you think this is scary? Try losing your weapon in a porta-sh*tty as your FOB is getting indirect fire! Now that's scary!"
We know, bro. We know.
"Want to see a real horror monster? You should see my old drill instructor when faced with an unsecured wall locker."
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Pedro Cardenas)
5. We tend to get a bit... punchy... around the actors
You knew this one was coming. No, you can't punch the actors that jump out at guests. They're not allowed to touch you and you're not allowed to feed them their teeth.
In fact, it's against the law — and everyone will laugh at you if you try to say that some minimum-wage-earning teenager in a cheap costume at a haunted house that you knowingly and willingly paid money to visit is actually some monster.
Plus, most haunted houses have cameras and security guards in place for just such occasions. So, uh, just don't do it.
What's actually a scary thought is that your MACP Level 1 isn't going to do jack sh*t against a security guard who likes tasing people.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham)