By 1st Lt. Kathryn Stuard
821st Support Squadron
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Most U.S. bases around the world celebrate Armed Forces Day on its properly designated day, May 21. However, due to a few unique aspects of living in the Arctic, Thule Air Base chooses to celebrate this singular occasion a little early every year. That chosen time is Easter weekend.
Armed Forces Day was established in 1949 as a holiday for citizens to come together and thank military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. In that regard, it is typically a festive event in which community members are invited onto the base to celebrate side by side with service members. Due to Thule AB’s extremely remote location, 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, off-base community members are in short supply. The nearest neighbors are either 62 miles (100 km) north from a village called Qaanaaq, or 75 miles (120 km) south to Savissivik.
Exacerbating the solitude, there are no roads between the villages and Thule. So, how do the neighbors conquer the formidable temperatures of the Arctic to visit Thule? The answer lies with their trusty dogs. This year, nearly 15 hunters and their families braved the frigid weather on their journey to join the members of Thule in the celebration of Armed Forces Day. By May 21, the frozen sea ice would be much too thin and dangerous for this traverse, so prioritizing community involvement, the 821st Air Base Group commander decides to celebrate Armed Forces Day early each year.
“Most of Thule’s activities are dictated by the weather; too early in the year it is 24-hours of darkness and dangerously cold weather,” said Col. Stuart Pettis, 821st AB commander, “Too late in the year and, while it is warmer, the ice is too thin for dog sleds to make it to the base.”
This year Easter fell on March 27, so that is the weekend the service members of Thule AB received a unique opportunity to meet local Greenlandic hunters, try their hand at some traditional sporting activities, peruse and purchase handcrafted products, and even seek rides across the ice on one of the many dog sledges.
The festivities kicked off with a heated dog sledge race in which raffle winners from the base rode with hunters as they raced 6 miles (10 km) to win a new hunting rifle. Another event was the Thule Arctic Games. Taking inspiration from the annual Arctic Games held in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, each year, the events included a snowshoe race, sledge jump, and high kick to name a few.
All the fun had to end, however, and as the week drew to an end, one by one the hunters started their long journeys home across the ice. The trip typically varies from two to four days over which the hunters and their families are at the will of Mother Nature, completely exposed to -10 to -20 degree temperatures, not including wind-chill before making it safely home.
The people of Thule AB are grateful to spend time around the hunters and their families. Their indomitable spirits allow them to experience a truly once in a lifetime opportunity up at the Top of the World.