Operation JULEMAND 2023

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Lars Madsen (RDAF) and Lt. Col. Lee Warren (USAF)
  • 821st Space Base Group

Operation JULEMAND (yoo-leh-mond) started as a one-time event in 1959 designed to foster good-will and holiday cheer with the Greenlandic communities surrounding Pituffik Space Base, Greenland (formerly called Thule Air Base). “Julemand” is a Danish word that means “Christmas Man,” and is emblematic of the figure Americans would recognize as Santa Claus.  

Representatives from the installation have traveled out to local villages to bring holiday greetings and gifts as the Julemand for over 60 years, and Operation JULEMAND has become a cornerstone of Pituffik Space Base’s outreach to their neighbors in northwest Greenland.  

Qaanaaq is a medium sized village of several hundred people located around 70 miles north of Pituffik SB. The residents of Qaanaaq have a long history with Pituffik. Many of the villagers are descendants of the residents of Dundas Village, a small trading post village established in the early 1900s next to what is now Pituffik SB. As part of their shared history, Operation JULEMAND has become one of the most cherished events in both Qaanaaq and Pituffik.  

On Nov. 29, 2023, with Christmas just three weeks away, members of Pituffik SB traveled north—70 miles as the reindeer fly—on a special sleigh provided by Air Greenland. The team, including the much-awaited Julemand, arrived at the village of Qaanaaq in the arctic darkness at 1 p.m. to deliver gifts to the children of the community. 

In the lead was the Julemand himself, USAF Lt. Col. Lee Warren, 821st Space Base Group deputy commander, and his trusty side-kick, Royal Danish Air Force Lt. Col. Lars Madsen, the Danish Liaison Officer from Danish Joint Arctic Command to Pituffik SB. Also joining the Julemand were his (not so) little helpers USAF Capt. Steve Lager, 821st SBG chaplain, USAF Chief Master Sgt. Jake Plemons, 821st Security Forces Squadron senior enlisted leader, and USSF 2nd Lt. Roman Ocampo, 12th Space Warning Squadron crew commander. Air Greenland Pilot Tony Olsen served as Rudolph, guiding the sleigh through the darkness.  


The team was greeted enthusiastically by local citizens and travelers already at the airport and then made a grand scene arriving to the village in a fire truck accompanied by police and emergency vehicles. Lights flashed and sirens blared to announce the arrival of the Julemand. The whole community gathered at the gymnasium to enjoy the celebration. 

Children of all ages and their families funneled into the gymnasium and greeted the Julemand and his helpers with wide smiles and bright eyes. After a few opening remarks by the leaders of the village, everyone joined hands and circled around the Christmas tree while carols were sung in Kalaallisut, the local language. Following these observances, the Julemand and his helpers—including volunteers from the village—gathered around the tree and called each child’s name. As they came forward, they were each presented with two gifts from their friends at Pituffik. 


“Team Pituffik is proud to be part of this unique tradition found here in Northern Greenland, and we are proud of the relationship we have with our friends and neighbors,” Warren said. “Operation Julemand is one of the ways we can give a little something back to the Greenlandic community to show them how much we appreciate them.” 

This year Team Pituffik gathered nearly $10,000 for Operation Julemand and provided items like sporting goods, books, school supplies, dolls and stuffed animals for approximately 200 children in local villages. Although the event only lasted half a day, coordinating an event of this magnitude is a year-round effort. Detailed Operation JULEMAND planning began in July, but the base raises funds throughout the year to support the program. Most of the funds come from personal donations collected from donation boxes located on base. There are also fundraising events throughout the year such as bingo, poker tournaments, and other competitions. Additionally, mission partners at Inussuk and Air Greenland provide funding, logistics and volunteer support. 

Operation JULEMAND has become as much fun for Team Pituffik as it is for the kids of Qaanaaq.  

Ocampo expressed this feeling when he stated, “I just wanted an opportunity to not only provide gifts to the children of Qaanaaq, but also to continue a long-standing tradition of giving. It was a great opportunity to work alongside people from different countries and experience a different culture. I am thankful for this opportunity, and lucky to have had the chance to participate.” 

As the newly elected president of the Operation JULEMAND committee, Ocampo will take the lead on planning next year’s event. He points out, however, that it is all of Team Pituffik that will ensure the success of Operation JULEMAND ‘24.  

“From our military personnel and our contractor partners at Inussuk, to the Danish Police Inspector, Danish Liaison Officer, Air Greenland and local leaders in Qaanaaq, Operation JULEMAND is one more example of Team Pituffik working together to get the job done.”