By Lt. Col. Doug Hickey, 821st Air Base Group
/ Published April 26, 2022
Hunter Ole Kristensen jumps aboard his dog sled with SSgt Kaylah Salita, 821st Security Forces Squadron, NCOIC, Commanders Support Staff as they begin the dog sled race on the ice of North Star Bay. Kristensen and Salita went on to win the 11 kilometer race in a time of 28 minutes, 8 seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Carlos Ferran, 821st Support Squadron)
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland – Greenlandic Heritage Week attendees enjoy a potluck dinner at the Community Center on Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 15, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
A Greenlandic hunter readies his dogs for the start of a dog sled race on the ice of North Star Bay at Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 19, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ane-Louise Ivik)
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland – A local child from a nearby village takes a look down the sights of one of the 821st Security Forces Squadron rifles on display at Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 15, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland –Staff Sgt. Dillon Sink, 821st Security Forces Squadron combat arms instructor, shares information about a rifle to one of the local villagers for the annual Greenlandic Heritage Week at Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 15, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
11-year old Nuka Kristensen stands with his dog sled race partner, Staff Sgt. Porchech Shropshire, 821st Security Forces Squadron, Base Defense Operations Center controller, at Thule Air Base, Greenland. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
A view from the sled of Magnus Eliassen, as he sets off on his path for the 11 km dog sled race on the ice of North Star Bay at Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 19, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Douglas Hickey)
Members of Team Thule shop at the Greenlandic Craft Fair, where local hunters and families brought their crafts to sell at Thule Air Base, Greenland, April 16, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
Tech. Sgt. Katelynn Winkelman, 821st Support Squadron NCOIC, Medical Support Operations, provides goodies and school backpacks to local Greenlandic kids that took part in the Easter egg hunt at Thule Air Base, Greenland as part of Greenlandic Heritage Week events, April 16, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Simplicio Espiritu)
The 821st Air Base Group at Thule Air Base hosted its annual Greenlandic Heritage Week and Armed Forces Day celebration in conjunction with the Easter weekend from April 15-17, 2022.
This year, 42 personnel (27 adults and 15 kids) participated from three of the local villages (Qaanaaq, Mariusaq, and Savissivik), with most making the 3-4 day trek by dog sled (20 dog sleds) across the ice.
For some perspective, the nearest village in this northwest region of the Arctic is more than 70 miles from Thule Air Base, which is only accessible by plane, boat or dog sled. Thule Air Base, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, has held this event for nearly 50 years as a way to maintain relations with the nearby villages, sharing cultural traditions, crafts and meals during these times together.
Greenlandic Heritage Week brings together four distinct cultures from Greenland, Denmark, Canada and the United States.
With an increased interest in the Arctic from a Global and Department of Defense perspective, it is vitally important to understand the different cultures and develop mutually beneficial relations with the local communities in the region. This annual event does just that.
Many hunters and their families come to Thule Air Base each year as a celebration and vacation, with Airmen and Guardians getting the chance to experience this unique culture that survives in the most remote locations in Greenland.
The Inughuit people who live in Northwest Greenland are the northernmost people in North America and make up about one percent of the population of Greenland.
The relations between the Americans and the Inughuit go way back, with one significant example dating back to the North Pole Expedition where explorers Robert Edwin Peary and Mathew Alexander Henson claimed to be the first to have reached the geographic North Pole along with four Inughuit hunters. Those hunters may still have descendants here in this area, maybe even participating in the annual Greenlandic Heritage Week and Armed Forces Day events at Thule Air Base.
The weekend began on Friday with an opening and welcome ceremony coupled with a free potluck dinner at the base community center.
Welcoming remarks were provided by Col. Heather McGee 821st Air Base Group commander; Commander Sigrid Hansen, Danish liaison officer,; Fini Carlsen, Danish police inspector; and Mr. Bill Womack, Vectrus Services program director,.
The remarks for this cultural engagement were translated to the local villagers by Ane-Louise Ivik, a Greenlandic contractor from Savissivik who works for Vectrus Services on base.
At this event, military, civilian and contractor personnel from the base were offered the opportunity to purchase tickets to receive a helicopter ride from Air Greenland, snow mobile rides and a ride on one of the dog sleds.
As a special addition, raffle tickets were sold for a select number of personnel to ride on a dog sled during the race, with the winners of the raffle being announced at the end of the evening, pairing team Thule members with the dog sled owners and hunters.
In addition to the opening event, the guests were also offered the opportunity to tour the fire department and ride in some of the vehicles, ask questions to combat arms Airmen manning a security forces static weapons display and tour the vehicle maintenance shop.
The following Saturday, an Easter egg hunt was held at the community center. This was particularly exciting for the kids, who each received a gift bag with goodies and their own backpack with school supplies, some of which were donated by Peterson-Schriever Garrison, Operation Julemand, and the Air Base Group Commander.
The craft fair was an opportunity for our Greenlandic guests to sell their crafts to the base. These crafts included polar bear skins, arctic fox pelts, walrus tusks, polar bear teeth and claws and hand-crafted jewelry.
The final day of Greenlandic Heritage Week was by far the busiest with various events and great weather for the outside activities.
Events on the ice included Boots N’ Broom Hockey, on a cleared part of the ice using hockey nets from the fitness center, snow mobile rides by the Danish Police Inspector with profits going to Operation Julemand, dog sled rides with profits going directly to the hunters and villagers who traveled to participate in the weekend events. Also, lunch was provided by Vectrus Services at the port ramp.
The culminating event was the annual dog sled race which involved 14 dog sleds (approximately 150 dogs) traversing the ice of North Star Bay on a mapped-out, 7 mile course passing icebergs and overlooking Thule Air Base.
Each of the dog sleds had a local hunter and Team Thule member aboard for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the Arctic.
The youngest competitor was, 11-year-old, Nuka Kristensen and the oldest was his grandfather, the village elder, 79-year-old Qaerngaaq Nielsen.
Nielsen, from Savissivik, remains active with his dog sled and has participated in most of the Heritage Week races dating back to the 1970s, which he reflects on fondly, and enjoys coming every year with his family.
Over this time, he has been fortunate enough to win nine races and claim the top prize of a hunting rifle.
He said he wants to participate again next year if his health permits it and intends to fare better in the race with another year of training his dogs, stating he had to train all new dogs, having lost all of his dogs last year because they fell in the ocean while transiting the ice to hunt and commute for daily needs.
After the events on the ice had concluded, the guests were asked to join in the evening at the Fitness Center and Bowling Center for the closing ceremony, award ceremony and free pizza and bowling. McGee and Womack announced the top three finishers in the dog sled race and presented the prizes accordingly: for 1st Prize, a Savage 30-06 Rifle with Bushnell Scope for hunting polar bears and musk ox, for 2nd a camping tent, two sleeping bags and portable heater and for 3rd a portable compact generator.
This year, Ole Kristensen, along with Staff Sgt. Kaylah Salita, 821st Security Forces Squadron, bested the other 13 competitors on a beautiful sunny day with a time of 28 minutes, 8 seconds. He said it is very important for he and his family to come and participate in Greenlandic Heritage Week, and they tell their friends and family who do not live in Savissivik that they are vacationing at Thule Air Base while they compete in the dog sled race and other events.
The men and women were honored to host and spend the weekend with our Arctic neighbors, building relations, creating memories and fostering a sense of community in the farthest north inhabited region of Greenland. The weekend event was truly a success in providing 350 meals to Greenlandic family members, raising $300 for Operation Julemand, providing $1,700 in earnings to the hunters for dog sled rides and saving $1,000 to be put aside for next year’s event.
The 821st Air Base Group looks forward to hosting again in 2023, and as always wishes its Greenlandic friends safe travels on the unpredictable ice and across the sea.