Beyond The Woods
Editor: Megan Larson
Life in the Swedish Military
by Jonas Ström
My name is Jonas Ström, and I was asked to write something up about my experience in the military. It is mandatory for all Swedish men to do military service at the age of 18. The time you actually do it may vary; I did mine when I was 20. It is mandatory, but the army can't afford to enlist all men, which means only the ones physically and mentally healthy enough do it. In other words, the unfortunate ones who choose not to lie to the psychiatrist and don't have a bad back.
I was anxious before the join up date. Probably ever since I learned that I had been positioned, which was a year and a half before the actual join up date. I even verged on depression, mostly in the evenings, which is why my IRC friends got to see my worse sides that year, I suppose. Futility, and panic.
The first day was odd. My friend Ahlmark (who was in my platoon, but later got transferred to another platoon) and I arrived at the garrison and were told where to go. We arrived at an empty three stories high building, our barrack. We looked around and found an officer who told us to look for our room and read the little blue pamphlet with garrison rules. I felt relaxed, since I had thought it would be much worse. People start dropping in and after a while an officer tells us to line up in the corridor. This is when we get the first taste of something very hard to describe. Authority. Not only assigned authority, or authority given and written down on a paper. Real authority. This officer?s word was our law. He didn't say so, but I don't think anyone even considered doing anything but what he told us to.
We are told that we're to go and get our equipment. We marched (but I'd have to say what we did was a shame to the word marching) to the warehouse where we receive a paper that lists all the equipment, and two gargantuan plastic bags (plastic bag 80, I think they're called). Then we walk through a corridor with a long desk, receiving all the equipment (except for the AK5). This was all the equipment we'd ever use. Then we had to carry it all back to the barracks, which was on the other side of the garrison. My back hurt for a month.
Then we lined up in a circle outside our barracks to put our uniforms on. We had two options: To put the uniform boxer shorts on now, or the next day. They allowed us to wear our own boxer shorts this one day. Then we have some lessons in how to take care of our boots, and how to put them on (with soles taken out and shoe laces off) in less then a minute. That evening we sewed markings onto our uniform before promptly falling asleep way after midnight.
The first week was beyond anything I had ever imagined. Sure, I had imagined it would be physically hard. But that it actually was that hard and more, and to actually be there and have to do it was enormous. I don't think I've ever felt so depressed before, and to actually know that "resistance is futile" is quite alarming.
The week after that one we talked to a nurse, and our captain. This is where the ones who can't handle it physically or mentally get to be reassigned or sent home. I was somewhere in between, I suppose. I was all teary eyed and almost choked on sobs when I talked to the nurse, but then I talked to the captain.
Captain Öhman is very strict, and after the first week I had thought him to be nothing but strict. But when I talked to him he was very compassionate and calm. Before that talk he had seemed unreachable, like an alien. But he was just like a "normal" person and very aware of the fears we may have. He gave me quite a pep talk, and perhaps it was that talk that made me give in. Any thoughts of getting out of the army after that were half-hearted.
One of the things I hated most in the beginning was the feeling that the army quenched the individual. I believe very strongly in the individual, and I had the feeling that the army was my nemesis.
But after a while when the platoon started bonding and even the officers became a part of the group, I came to realize that the army didn't quench the individual. The army is nothing without the regiments, the regiments are nothing without the companies, the companies are nothing without the platoons, the platoons are nothing without the groups and the groups are nothing without the individuals. The individuals are the group. If one individual comes late, the whole group comes late. If you're finished with an assignment you don't think rest, you help those that aren't finished.
Suddenly you realize that it has nothing with quenching the individual, but that there's something bigger then just you.
Patriotism. This word is often stamped as bad, or extremely good. I think you should realize that the difference between patriotism and believing that your country is better than another countries is chauvinism. Patriotism means 'Love of and devotion to one's country' while chauvinism means 'Militant devotion to and glorification of one's country; fanatical patriotism' or 'Prejudiced belief in the superiority of one's own gender, group, or kind'.
You can be a patriot without believing other countries to be less. As a devoted Star Trek fan, I don't believe in countries. But one winter morning when we were lying in ambush for another platoon, and it was so cold that my lungs hurt, I did feel that I loved this country. Not this "country" perhaps, but the nature in it.
I actually learned much during those 10 months, ranging from how to slit an enemies throat in the most efficient manner to how you bandage an open gut wound, with entrails hanging out. But more importantly, I've gained a sense of duty.
A feeling that if and when I can afford it, I shall strive to help others. And I've also gained confidence in myself; that yes, even though a task may seem impossible, you can do it.
Even though it was fun to shoot blanks at each other, I hope we never end up in war. If possible, I feel that now, even stronger then before.
Graphic provided by author.
Jonas Ström is a 21 years old Multimedia and Computer Science student at Karlstad University, Sweden. In his spare time he composes music and works with art. Sometimes he even makes a little Shockwave game.
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