Military Life

Why the US has a base 695 miles north of the Arctic Circle

Every military installation has its ups and downs. You could be assigned to a tropical paradise, but you can't afford anything off-base. You could be assigned to a breathtaking foreign country, but learning the local language will take some time. Or, you could be assigned to Thule Air Base in Greenland, where there's literally nothing but ice and rock for 65 miles (and, even then, it's just a remote Eskimo village).


The multinational team stationed there consists of around 400 Danish troops, 150 American troops, and a handful of Canadians. Team Thule is charged with tracking satellites and orbiting debris using a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS), a remnant from the Cold War by being strategically placed roughly halfway between Moscow and New York City.

"Travel the world, they said. Meet interesting people, they said." (Photo by JoAnne Castagna)

The BMEWS is still manned and operated by both American and Danish troops. Denmark holds territorial claim over Greenland but gave them "Home Rule" in 1979 and Greenlanders voted for self-governance in 2008. Denmark still handles much of the defense of Greenland, however.

Troops at Thule are locked out from the rest of the world by the ice for nine months, so during the three "summer" months, everyone loads up on supplies that'll last them the rest of the year. Thule is also home to the Air Force's only Tug Boat, the Rising Star, which it uses for these resupply missions.

Just an average day at Thule Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dennis Hoffman)

The Military One Source Pamphlet hilariously tries to downplay the roughness of Thule while also telling you that there are no ATMs, no commissary, the PX is extremely limited, and there's all of one bar and a single "base taxi."

But hey! At least every barracks room comes with free WiFi and it's kind of accepted that everyone shelters-in-place during the four-month-long Polar Night where winds can reach 200 mph and the temperatures are -28.