By SRO Kjell Michelsen
Back in the 1980s, the law in Norway said that any able man between the age of 18 and 27 had to join one of the branches of the military for one year. Like several other European countries at that time, Norway had what was called a Compulsory Service System.
Growing up in a fishing village I had a natural liking to the maritime life, so my goal was to be called in for my year to serve in the Navy. I went through the Norwegian Merchant Marine Academy and with that, I thought that I was all set. But the Norwegian Armed Forces apparently had other plans for me, because I ended up in the Army, and was sent off to infantry boot-camp.
A little disappointed at first, I soon took a liking to serve in the Army. After boot camp, I was stationed in the northern city of Narvik, a name that might resonate with some World War II history buffs. Narvik was the first place during the war where Nazi-Germany lost a military battle, this after soldiers from Norway, England, Poland and France enmassed a force strong enough to beat them. The German troops were later able to send enough re-enforcements to retake Narvik and the surrounding mountains.
Based on how well one did during your year in the military, you had the opportunity to apply and try out for military service overseas. At that time, Norway had an infantry battalion stationed in South Lebanon as a part of a United Nations operation called, United Nation Interim Force In Lebanon or UNIFIL for short.
After the initial training in Norway, I was assigned to Company B, 1st Platoon, which was a light infantry platoon tasked with intercepting anyone trying to cross into Northern Israel. One of our main tasks was going out on night patrols, looking for infiltrators from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) who often tried to cross the border into Israel to attack Israeli targets, both civilian and military.
I was 19 at the time, so for me who had grown up in a small fishing village in Northern Norway where my only experience with travel had been a few family vacation trips to Sweden and Finland. To suddenly be in a Middle Eastern country, especially during a time where a bloody civil war was going on was an experience that formed my life for years to come. Although the Lebanese civil war was mostly fought in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, we at times had our hands full not only with those seeking illegal entry into Israel but also at times with the Israeli army themselves, or their counterparts in the Haddad militia, who sometimes did not care much for our presence.
During my years in the military, I was able to apply and try out for four different missions which in turn turned into nine tours of duty. I had the honor of serving in countries like Lebanon, Bosnia, Croatia and Somalia. Most of my friends know about my service, but not so much of what I did or experienced, people I worked with, missions we had and more. I will write about some of that in future Officer Norway’s Corner posts.
Until next time, be safe, be happy and do the right thing.