By Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — “(Service member) did, with my royal permission, enter this dread region of the earth by crossing the Arctic Circle. Having endured the rigors of winter storm conditions with frequent hurricane-force winds, seasons of 24-hour daylight and 24-hour night, mukluks, icebergs, ‘Archies,’ iron pants, and the like; and having served the minimum apprenticeship north of the Arctic Circle, with the Armed Forces of the United States of America, is hereby accorded the honor as a Knight of the Blue Nose. All Frigid Brothers and Sisters are commanded to give this distinguished personage due recognition under penalty of banishment from the Arctic Order, Knights of the Blue Nose.”
(Signed) Supreme Exalted Potentate of the Arctic Region
Being inducted into the Arctic Order, Knights of the Blue Nose, is the method of recognition for all those who survive a short tour at the Top of the World. It is a well-deserved honor, as it requires the honoree to forgo months of sunlight, warmth, outside human contact, and reliable internet. It is definitely one of the more unique farewells a service member will receive.
“To me it’s one of the really nice traditions we do here as part of the Thule family,” said Lt. Col. Stacy Clements, 821st Air Base Group deputy commander.
The ceremony itself takes place shortly before the honoree departs on the weekly rotator, yes, there is just the one. The member is taken to the front of the room, and while the induction is read, his or her nose is painted blue, symbolizing the physical reaction to the extreme arctic cold they have become so accustomed to.
Following their induction, they are presented with gifts as friends and coworkers who know them best recount stories of their exploits at the Air Force’s northernmost installation.
It is a time-honored tradition that, according to Clements’ research, has been around in some form or another since Airmen began serving at Thule.
She said she suspects it was adapted from the U.S. Navy, who recognizes sailors who cross the Arctic Circle as a Blue Nose.
“Here it’s a little different,” she said. “We don’t just give it to you because you come here. You have to stick with us for the winter.”
Every ceremony is slightly different in scale and size, Clements said. For some people, it is a small affair, with only those they’ve grown close with. For the vast majority, it is a base event where everyone is invited. This speaks primarily to the closeness of the Thule community, she said. At any one time, there are only around 150 Airmen stationed at Thule, so chances are the departing member has become close with members in and outside their unit.
One of the more unique Blue Nose ceremonies recognizes those leaving the 12th Space Warning Squadron. Not only is it a small ceremony, primarily attended by 12th SWS personnel, there are other differences.
“At 12th SWS, Blue Nose ceremonies are a much more personal occasion due to the 12th SWS-specific challenges and trials each member of the squadron faced together with the departing member,” said Lt. Col. Marc Brock, 12th SWS commander. “The site is separated approximately 12 miles from the main base, and the mission differs greatly from the 821st ABG’s, and the number of personnel at 12th SWS is considerably smaller. These conditions combine to make (12 SWS) closely-knit and we feel, to an extent, like family; something especially important in an environment where members’ families are thousands of miles away.”
This closeness is especially evident in the painting ceremony.
“Each member of 12th SWS gets the opportunity to place their individual blue-painted mark on the departing member as a personalized goodbye message” Brock said. “These range from writing small words or messages (Ex: “U.S., eh?” on a recently departed Canadian Forces 12th SWS member) to painting a picture (a shining sun, an ice berg, a cloud, etc.) or adding new facial features (cat whiskers, freckles, dimples, etc.). When the member’s set foot on the plane and depart a place they likely will never see again, they do so knowing that the hands of the entire squadron carried them there with fondest farewells.”
Whether the ceremony is a large affair, or a group of close-knit friends and coworkers, it truly is a unique way to say farewell.
So, to all ye who know nothing of the rigors of the dreaded arctic region, tis a challenging place to serve. Yet, once ye have, ye will forever be accorded the honor as a Knight of the Blue Nose.
(Editor’s note: This story is part 4 of a 4 part series about life at the Top of the World: Thule Air Base, Greenland.)