FORT RUCKER Ala. -- Trekking to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras is no longer necessary because community members can now make the much shorter pilgrimage to The Landing Zone for the staff's first Mardi Gras Masquerade Saturday.

The Landing Zone staff hosts the party Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Attendees must be 18 or older, and there is a $5 cover charge.

Patrons may feast on spicy gumbo, hot jambalaya and other traditional New Orleans cuisine, according to Stephen Peacock, business operations manager. Starbucks staff brews coffee concoctions throughout the party. The band, Stone Shaker, provides live entertainment.

Costume contest winners are crowned king and queen before the end of the night and take home prizes.

Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers members seek out those daring enough to parade around in colorful costumes and masks, judging for the most original and creative costumes, Vicky Tonn, business operations assistant, said.

"We've found out adults like to dress up as much as kids do," Peacock said. "Mardi Gras is all about a good time."

However, costumes are not required, he noted.

The event makes celebrating the festivities easier for the Fort Rucker community, said Tonn. Panama City and Mobile offer the closest alternatives, which are still several hours away.

"We want to support our Soldiers and make sure they have a good time," she said.

Tonn said military posts are melting pots and hosting Mardi Gras here offers Soldiers and their Families diverse experiences.

"It gives them local culture and gives them a taste of southern and Louisiana hospitality," Peacock said.

The party will be a little piece of home for those originally from the region who celebrate Mardi Gras, Tonn said.

Safety is always of paramount importance to ensure the night remains fun. Peacock advocates groups select designated drivers before the party starts, and said those appointed individuals receive free meals and non-alcoholic drinks.

A courtesy shuttle service takes people without alternative plans back to on-post residencies.
The Landing Zone staff welcomes the post's neighboring community members to their events. Peacock reminds patrons that accessing Fort Rucker is as simple as providing driver's licenses, vehicle registrations and insurance cards.

For more information about the Mardi Gras Masquerade, call 598-8025.