Thule Air Base, Greenland: It will surprise you

  • Published
  • By By Col. Mawfa Kuvibidila
  • 821st Air Base Group
Before my arrival at Thule Air Base, Greenland, I received three reactions when I told people where I was going. 

Feedback ranged from, “I didn’t know the base existed,” or “I thought it was shut down a long time ago,” to “… that’s pretty cool.”  

Cool (no pun intended), doesn’t even begin to describe a place that looks like another world. This is not my first time here. I was TDY here about five years ago as a member of the 21st Operations Group.  What I failed to appreciate then — and what I’m slowly learning today — is the diversity and strategic importance of the variety of missions the base performs. Part of its mission endures from the base’s creation in 1951 while others started a few years ago.   

Thule’s missions cross all levels — tactical, operational and strategic. The base enables force projection, space superiority, and scientific research while supporting allies, coalition partners and local communities. It’s incredibly dynamic and busy for a place over 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle; it’s so far north the Northern Lights are south of us! 

The most well-known mission is the space mission, supporting the 12th Space Warning Squadron, part of 21 OG at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, in missile warning, missile defense, and space situational awareness. The unit provides invaluable forewarning of what may come over the poles while watching the ever-increasing number of objects in space.   

In addition, 23rd Space Operations Squadron Det. 1, which is part of the 50th Network Operations Group at Schriever AFB, Colorado, provides space command and control by linking ground stations and their satellites — this is crucial to ensuring that multiple Department of Defense agencies and other organizations like NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration can accomplish their respective missions.  

Thule’s location empowers American, Danish, and Canadian forces to extend their air and maritime reach to posture for a variety of scenarios, whether Arctic search and rescue exercises or supporting resupply missions. The base has one of the longest runways this far north and the northernmost deep-water port in the world with the Air Force’s only tugboat. Thule’s mission not only focuses on military enablers but also scientific research.  

There are an incredible number of scientific organizations on base, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Smithsonian, the Danish Technological Institute, Danish Meteorological Institute and the Arctic Institute, just to name a few. They explore climate change, wildlife migration patterns, black holes, and so much more.  

The last part of our mission supports five local Greenlandic villages by providing the nearest hospital facilities within a 100km radius. People arrive by air, sea and in the winter, dog sled. We also coordinate with the Danish-Greenlandic Joint Arctic Command, to provide a place where ships and planes can stay for emergency repairs.  

None of the above can be accomplished without the amazingly talented people who directly support it. Team Thule has an amazing melting pot of Americans, Danes, Greenlanders, Canadians, and people from as far away as Ukraine and Taiwan.  

The Airmen are essential in ensuring all of Thule’s missions are accomplished. Defenders safeguard the largest Air Force base overseas; logisticians coordinate a variety of airlift and supply movements; personnelists, medical technicians and services ensure we’re taken care of here and when we’re back in the U.S. They work side by side with their Danish and Greenlandic co-workers, some who have lived at Thule for decades, to get the job done.  

So what lessons do I expect the Thule Airmen to learn? It is challenging at times, the same place where we see muskox, seals, arctic foxes, hares, and the occasional polar bear is where people hunker down in -40 degree weather to make sure the 24/7 missions never stop.  

Thule reminds me innovation takes multiple and seemingly disparate missions and promotes new ways of thinking. The teamwork embodied every day definitely demonstrates our motto: “Proud To Be.” The diversity of people reminds us of how much we have in common and what we can learn from each other; the diversity of the mission reminds us of global integration and shared national objectives; and the unique location reminds us to stop and admire a new place and culture and how much it has to offer.