JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
Even 4,300 miles from home, celebrating the Thai Songkran Water Festival each April is an annual tradition for the Thai employees on remote Wake Atoll, an Air Force installation and airfield located in the Pacific Ocean halfway between Hawaii and The Philippines.
On the small island atoll, made up of approximately 100 Air Force members and American and Thai contractors, the festival, celebrated on the atoll on April 16, was a chance for the island residents to learn about another culture, create comradery and feel a little less homesick.
"By taking part in our foreign partners’ cultural events, we strengthen our alliances and elevate our own cultural competence,” said Capt. Allen Jaime, Detachment 1 Wake Island commander. “We are honored to share in this event with our Thai partners and are humbled to receive blessings and share in their country's rich history."
The water festival is part of the Thai New Year, Songkran, and is celebrated throughout Thailand each year on April 13th. The festival not only celebrates the New Year, but is also meant to wash away the sins and bad luck of the previous year and to pray for good rains and harvest in the coming year, according to Kitichai Chaladgan, originally from Chaiyaphum, Thailand. Chaladgan, or “Bug Man” as he’s known on the island, is the organizer of the festival on Wake Island and has been a pest control specialist on the atoll for the last 21 months.
“This is the biggest holiday of the year in Thailand. Everyone travels back to their hometowns. We try to plan a lot of activities here so that we can get to know each other, as a family,” said Chaladgan about the importance of celebrating the holiday while at Wake. “People always raise their hand to help plan the event, it makes them feel less homesick and like a family. We are one team, one fight.”
The festival, which has been celebrated for more than two decades on the island, begins with a parade from the small Buddhist Temple through the “downtown” area of the island. Colorful floats and a statue of Buddha are part of the procession as people show respect and pray for good health and a successful year to come, while a white paste is smeared on the faces of the participants as a sign of protection and to ward off evil. Following the parade, the Wake residents celebrate with traditional Thai food, games and prizes, by asking for a blessing from elders and a large scale water fight.
The Thai residents on Wake also annually celebrate King’s Day in December. The day commemorates the birthday of the late King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Wake Atoll is located approximately 2,138 nautical miles west of Honolulu, Hawaii and is a U.S. Territory managed by the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska. Wake Island Airfield has a 10,000-foot runway and serves as a trans-Pacific refueling stop for military aircraft in addition to supporting Missile Defense Agency test activities.