Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Infantry

My national service is ended, and time has come to summarize the year. How was it? Do I recommend the next high school graduates to apply for the infantry, or do I not? I’ll tell you my answer to the last question right away: I do not know. As for the first question, I’ll need a few paragraphs to express the wide spectrum of feelings and experiences that make up the minimum of a decent answer.

Let me start off by telling you that a year in the Norwegian infantry is varied. It is actually very varied; two days are seldom alike. Or, actually, two days may well be very alike. But the year as a whole has been quite varied. It started with basic infantry training for a few weeks, before we got into specialising within our field, learning how to drive the unnecessary complicated military vehicles, and attending other courses that teach us how to act our role in war. Then a series of increasingly complex exercises started, ending with the famous, international NATO exercise called Cold Response. Famous in Norway, anyways.

These exercises taught me a lot about – everything. A little about myself, a few things about God, a great deal about Mother Nature, but most of all about man. It should be said that I have been lucky in such aspects, being even allowed to lead a squad on my own on one occasion, which gave me much valuable insight and experience. We didn’t accomplish our mission, though, as our power unit went out of oil, making our electric oven and liaison equipment stop working. On top on that, I destroyed our Optimus Primus (a gas oven) while trying to improve its mediocre performance, leaving us completely without heat in the cold winter night. The human mind acts in mysterious ways on such occasions.

After the period of exercises, we had quite enjoyable weeks with close combat, war technique and urban warfare, and also theoretical courses in international law, ethics of war and gymnastics. We went searching for unexploded ammunition, had different hikes in the local mountains, and ran different military races, like, for instance, the 30 km run with an 11 kg backpack (including weapon). And, of course, we cleaned and washed the barracks for the next contingent before we left the building (which is actually quite a job).

What most people appreciate concerning their year in the national service is the friendships that are built in the barracks. And I too made some good friends; yet I can’t agree that the atmosphere was that unobjectionably amazing. People were always complaining about something, life was never kind enough, the officers were shit bags, the exercises were pointless, and so on. I’d prefer the atmosphere in my class in high school; there, nobody threw shit at people, and nobody talked behind other peoples back.

Btw, which is the best word: Objectionaryless, objectionlessniary, objectionlessly or unobjectionably?

There wasn’t much to do in our spare time, so I spent much time in the garrison chapel along with fellow Warriors of Agape; we had a choir, a conversation group, quiz nights, and evening services. While the services were all Lutheran, the audience had a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. This made room for many interesting conversations, in particular at the conversation group were also the non-Christians felt at home. We called ourselves the “friends of the priest assistant,” and in May, a few of us were lucky and alert enough to join the Norwegian delegation in the International Military Pilgrimage (PMI) to Lourdes, France, even though none of us were Catholics. The experience was overwhelming!

The best parts of the infantry was the exercises and the so-called “green days;” surviving snowstorms, driving snowmobile, working on the technical finesses of liaison, hiding in the forest and shooting blanks at the enemy. The memories of challenging runs like the 15 km and 30 km are also worth appreciating. Besides, some of the courses we had were kind of interesting, and the trip to Lourdes was awesome.

The downsides were the dreadful music that was played in the barracks and the slight tendency towards an unpleasant atmosphere in the platoon, with the mentioned whining and humour on the cost of others. It should be said that these tendencies never became more than tendencies, and that most of the soldiers thought that we had a pretty decent atmosphere.

I am glad I spent a year in the infantry.

More on this blog:
Experience I'll remember: Dangerous Mountains
A fun course: Snowmobiling
Thoughts on the ethics of war: Perfidy and Max Manus
A serious matter: Going to Afghanistan

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