One soldier’s story: How life in the army is a regular job

After serving three years as a soldier, this young man from Esbjerg likes many things about his work and looks forward to returning to Afghanistan

 

Frederik Hansen looks like a typical, handsome, young Danish man. The kind you see sitting in a local café, texting feverishly, gathering his friends for a weekend football match, or arranging a Friday night date. But Hansen doesn’t get to spend much time on the pitch or at the disco.

He is home on leave. From Afghanistan.

Hansen has been a soldier in the Danish Army for three years and is currently home on leave from his first tour of duty to Afghanistan. He was deployed in August, returned to Copenhagen five days ago, and is due to return to Afghanistan again this month.

Hansen is a sergeant and the commander of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV). He, along with his gunner and driver, is a member of Bravo Company in the cavalry and is often in the rear vehicle protecting patrol and escort convoys.

Hansen is 21 years old. That’s an age when many young people are forced to decide nothing more vital than whether or not to download the new Nik & Jay release, but the decisions Hansen makes affect the lives of not only the men in his vehicle, but also the well-being of the people and equipment he has been deployed to protect.

He doesn’t like to make a big deal out of his age. He says many of the roughly 750 Danes currently serving in Afghanistan are young, and that his own platoon commander is just 24.

 

Playing football is a way for many young Danes serving in Afghanistan to relive stress (Photo: hok.phanfare.com)

Hansen was born in Esbjerg but spent most of his life in Copenhagen. He had a pretty normal Danish childhood. “I played football and basketball,” he said. “I had good friends. When I finished public school, I didn’t want to go on to higher education, so I chose the military. I like to be active and use my body.”

 

Hansen views his service as a job. He refers to it as his “work”, and calls his fellow soldiers his “co-workers”.

He says he rarely discusses his military life with his civilian friends. “They are going to school or working in kindergartens. They like me for who I am, not what I do. If I need to talk about certain things, I don’t talk to my civilian friends; I talk to the people who I work with.”

One of the things that civilians find tough to understand is that Hansen actually likes many things about being deployed to Afghanistan. “I like being there. It is different than training here at home. The people there are professional, the rules are simple.”

Although his life while deployed may be “simple”, he is finding negotiating the cultural divide between his home life and his military life a bit daunting. “You just came from a place that is pretty messed up and are returning to a more civilised country. It takes a while for your mind to readjust to being in both places.”

Frederik Hansen is back home in Denmark after finishing his first tour of duty to Afghanistan

Even something as basic as getting a good night’s sleep can be tricky. “It takes a while to get used to sleeping for eight hours. I’m used to being on duty for long periods and then sleeping or resting for maybe 12 hours, and even when I am sleeping in Afghanistan, I am still at work.”

His role as an IFV commander doesn’t allow Hansen a lot of personal contact with the locals. However, the conversations he has had reveal a split in how the people of Afghanistan feel about his mission.

“Some of them like us and some of them don’t. Some say they just want to be left alone by both sides.”

When asked how he would respond to those that question why the military is even involved in Afghanistan, Hansen paused a moment before replying.

“That’s a big question. But these are people that have been oppressed for a long time. If our being there helps them get past that, then I think we should do it. It’s not only about going to war and fighting. It’s about helping the people.

“When I first went down there, I thought it would be hard to accomplish anything, but I can see in some of the people that we have accomplished something. They seem happier. They smile. It is important, though, that if new schools and wells or a new society is built in Afghanistan, they are built by the Afghan people and not us.”

When Hansen and his men are on duty in their IFV, he said, they aren’t thinking about the larger socio-political questions surrounding them.

“Everyone is focused on the plan. We’re just thinking about what we have to do.”

Join the debate – join us on Twitter or Facebook, or leave a comment below.

SEE RELATED STORY

The RAF airmen who are no longer MIA and can finally RIP




  • Denmark warns Russian hybrid attacks likely at major democracy summit

    Denmark warns Russian hybrid attacks likely at major democracy summit

    Experts and authorities say Russian sabotage and cyber attacks are “very likely” at the major Danish politics and democracy summit, Folkemødet, on the Baltic-Sea island of Bornholm this week.

  • Danish government will invest billions and remove burdens for entrepreneurs

    Danish government will invest billions and remove burdens for entrepreneurs

    The government has defined five areas aiming to create a world class environment for entrepreneurs in Denmark: Better access to capital, fewer burdens and less hassle, more talent must be cultivated, more knowledge-based entrepreneurial companies and more entrepreneurs throughout Denmark.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • International inclusion in Copenhagen: Insights from Culture and Leisure Mayor Mia Nyegaard

    International inclusion in Copenhagen: Insights from Culture and Leisure Mayor Mia Nyegaard

    Over 130,000 internationals live in Copenhagen. Here, the city’s Culture and Leisure Mayor Mia Nyegaard outlines how the municipality supports inclusion n the Danish capital.

  • 13 musicians go public on sexism and misconduct in Danish music industry

    13 musicians go public on sexism and misconduct in Danish music industry

    In a new documentary, 13 female musicians share their testimonies of unwanted touching, verbal and text-message harassment, everyday workplace sexism, and exploitation in the Danish music industry. 150 further interviews and several industry studies corroborate their experiences.

  • Late night enigma

    Late night enigma

    After many late recording sessions in Frederiksberg, I often found myself walking down Falkoner Alle at night. I would notice a particular shop front with all its lights on. What was this place?