Amazing experiences to be had at "Top of the World"

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jason Resley
  • 12th Space Warning Squadron Commander
As the plane began its final approach for landing, I raised the window shade and peered out at the great white expanse of Greenland. At that moment, I knew this assignment was going to be a unique and memorable one. With just over 120 active-duty military members, only a select few ever get the opportunity to serve at Thule Air Base. But for those who have, they share a connection, fond memories, and amazing experiences which can only be had at the "Top of the World."

Thule Air Base, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is the U.S. Armed Forces' most northern and remote installation. In fact Thule, derived from Latin, means "the northern most part of the habitable world." The nearest village is Qaanaaq, an Inuit village of 640 people located 65 miles away. While accessible year round by plane, Thule's bay is only open for three months during the summer before it begins to freeze over. This short window of opportunity allows cargo ships to resupply Thule with all the essentials required to sustain it through the long winter. At Thule, average temperatures range from negative 30 to plus 50 degrees Fahrenheit and varying wind speeds between 30 to 100 knots are not uncommon during the harsh arctic winters. Some find it difficult to adjust their sleep cycle when Thule experiences twenty-four hours of daylight, from the end of April to the middle of August. Others have no issues with sleep when Thule undergoes twenty-four hours of total darkness in the winter season from late November to the end of February.

Like the seasons, the geography of Thule is one of extreme contrasts. Roughly 840,000 square miles, Greenland is the world's largest island. Eighty one percent of the country is covered by a thick ice sheet also referred to as the ice cap. Located near the North Star Bay, Thule Air Base is situated in a glacial valley nestled between the North and South Mountains. The distance from the bay to the ice cap is only 12 miles apart. Glaciers continuously flow down Greenland's mountains to the sea, breaking and forming large and unique awe-inspiring icebergs which drift aimlessly in the sea. Ice caves, rock formations, waterfalls, jagged cliffs, fjords and more; this is an assignment filled with sights and activities outdoor adventurers would relish.

While Greenland's remote location, exotic landscapes, and extreme climates are enough to make it an unforgettable experience, it is its people that really make this assignment stand out from the rest. I continue to be amazed at the dedication, selflessness, and teamwork of Thule personnel. Team Thule is a multi-national force comprised of U.S. Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Danish Army and Navy, Danish Police, and American, Danish and Greenlandic contractors all working together to ensure mission accomplishment. Whether it is Greenlandic contractors providing base services, Danish fire fighters responding to emergencies, or U.S. and Canadian Airmen providing missile warning, missile defense, and space surveillance capabilities to our nation and its allies, Team Thule achieves a level of excellence to which most organizations only aspire.

So if you ever get the opportunity to serve our nation at its most northern installation, ready yourself. Because once you step off that plane and become a part of Team Thule, the close friendships, memories, and unforgettable experiences gained at the "Top of the World" will stay with you for a lifetime.