Inuit knowledge to be included in Greenland’s new military education | Polarjournal
There was a great interest in joining the new "Arctic Basic Education" as representitives of the Joint Arctic Command travelled around Greenland to present it. Photo: Joint Arctic Command
There was a great interest in joining the new “Arctic Basic Education” as representitives of the Joint Arctic Command travelled around Greenland to present it. Photo: Joint Arctic Command

The 22 recruits in the “Arctic Basic Education” represent towns across the country and were chosen between 236 applicants. “We need more Greenlanders in the corps,” Major General of the Joint Arctic Command tells Polar Journal.

On May 6th of this year, 22 new military recruits will be standing ready in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. And not just any new recruits, but a new and very special batch of privates.

Because, for the first time ever, a military education will be made up entirely of Greenlanders, will be taught mainly in Greenlandic, and will take place mainly in Greenland.

The new “Arctic Basic Education” is an initiative by the Joint Arctic Command, the Arctic branch of the Danish Military, and it is meant to recruit more Greenlanders to the Danish army, navy, and air force. Not least to the benefit of the Joint Arctic Command itself.

“The new recruits all come with different competencies. Some will be good at shooting, probably better than me, some will have ridden dog sleds since they were four years old, and some will have sailed since they were seven. We plan to make use of all these skills,” Søren Andersen, Major General of the Joint Arctic Command told Polar Journal.

“Greenlanders have the same basic military knowledge as the rest of our employees but, additionally, they have a ‘force multiplier’ as they understand the language, and the culture better than the rest of us,” Søren Andersen said.

Søren Andersen is a Major General in the Danish Defence and head of the Joint Arctic Command. Photo: Joint Arctic Command
Søren Andersen is a Major General in the Danish Defence, and head of the Joint Arctic Command. Photo: Joint Arctic Command

An overwhelming interest

The first six months of the “Arctic Basic Education” will consist of three modules. The first module will involve basic military training and will take place in Kangerlussuaq where repurposed barracks left by the American army have been prepared to house the recruits.

The second module, also in Kangerlussuaq, will be run along with the police, and will train the recruits in the basics of emergency response. And the third module, which will take place in Denmark, will give the recruits basic maritime knowledge, preparing them to sail on the Joint Arctic Command’s ships in Greenland.

During the last six months of the course, the recruits are free to specialize in areas they find interesting, and that will help them along to jobs with the Danish Defence, or in Greenland’s police or emergency services for instance. 

This package deal, which includes a salary, free board and lodging, and free travel back to the individual recruit’s hometown, has proved very popular. In total 236 young people applied for the course online, 169 of them were tested in person, and, in the end, 22 of them were chosen.

“There has been an overwhelming interest, and this makes us very happy. But I also do think that we offer a good ‘product’, so I understand why many people have been interested,” Søren Andersen said.

“I want more Greenlandic colleagues”

The popularity of the new course comes after a period of very few Greenlandic recruits in the Danish army, Søren Andersen recounts.

Back in 2019, it was decided that Greenlandic men would no longer have to go through a military conscription assessment when they turn 18, as other men in the Danish Realm are required to do. This led to very few Greenlanders joining the Danish army. So few that something had to be done.

In 2022, to revert this development, the idea of an Arctic military education arose. This idea was later refined, and turned into the “Arctic Basic Education”.

“I think that the government here in Greenland has wanted more locals to join the emergency services,” Søren Andersen said. 

“And for us in the Danish Defence, we have also had a great interest in this since our operational success in and around Greenland will only get higher when we have Greenlanders aboard our ships, in our planes, or in the dog-sledding patrol, Sirius,” he said.

And there are many reasons that the Greenlandic recruits are in great demand. Because, aside from maintaining sovereignty, the Joint Arctic Command also solves a number of tasks for the civil society. These include search and rescue operations, environmental control, fishery control, ice breaking, and support for researchers.

“All these tasks put us in touch with the local population, and having colleagues who are able to talk to the civilian society is an enormous benefit. Because of this I really want more Greenlandic colleagues, and I hope the ‘Arctic Basic Education’ will be able to help with this,” Søren Andersen said.

The new course is made in cooperation with police in Greenland. Here, the police and the Joint Arctic Command are seen working together in central Nuuk, Greenland. Photo: Joint Arctic Command
The new course is made in cooperation with police in Greenland. Here, the police and the Joint Arctic Command are seen working together in central Nuuk, Greenland. Photo: Joint Arctic Command

More recruits next year

Due to the popularity of the new education, talks about expanding it are already being had. Even before the first order has been given, the Danish Minister of Defence, Troels Lund Poulsen, has told Greenlandic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vivian Motzfeldt, that he is open to taking in more recruits next year.

The 22 that were accepted this year were all that could be absorbed by the police and the emergency services, and all there was space for on ships and bases, Søren Andersen said. But next year, more space may be found.

“There is a political wish to expand the intake next year already. We will start assessing the possibilities of doing this. It will require more instructors, and a larger capacity in the police and in the emergency services, but I believe there are good chances that we will do this,” he said.

The fire department and the emergency services are also included in the course. Photo: Joint Arctic Command
The fire department and the emergency services are also included in the new course. Photo: Joint Arctic Command

A ship captain in 15 years

In spite of the success of the course, it will not necessarily mean that Søren Andersen and the Joint Arctic Command will get more Greenlandic employees right away. Most recruits will need to go through further education or will move on to other institutions like the police or the emergency services.

There are, however, a few ways to stay employed by the Joint Arctic Command once the course is over. The easiest way, Søren Andersen advises, will be to join the Danish Navy and sail on the Joint Arctic Command’s ships in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. But soon the command is also going to offer positions for IT-supporters and for members of a guarding unit, which will also be open to graduates of the “Arctic Basic Education”. 

No matter what is to come, Søren Andersen is happy about the popularity of his new education. He hopes that is a reflection of the general popularity of the Joint Arctic Command in Greenland.

“There are probably many reasons that people applied but I think that if we had a bad reputation, we wouldn’t have had that many applicants,” he said.

“In Greenland, we do a lot of search and rescue operations. I think that a lot of Greenlandic families know us because we have saved some of their loved-ones. I think that the Joint Arctic Command has a good reputation in Greenland, and this may be part of the explanation for the great interest.”

“But I also believe that a lot of the applicants want to help and take responsibility for Greenlandic society. I hope that some of them dream of getting far in the Danish Defence, becoming the captain of a ship in 15 years or something like that,” Søren Andersen said. 

Ole Ellekrog, Polar Journal

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