miðvikudagur, október 04, 2006

all your base

This week the US Naval Air Station at Keflavík (the same facility where many of you have landed, as it is also shared with the international airport) took down the American and Icelandic flags for the last time in a joint Icelandic-American ceremony. The closing of this Cold War relic marks the end of decades of American military presence in Iceland. It also signifies the loss of hundreds of Icelandic jobs; many Keflavík locals worked there on the base. I got an email this week from Iceland Report reader Don on the topic of the base:

Hi Jared,

I have been a regular reader of IR for some time now.

I'm an airline pilot and live in Seattle now, but a long time ago I flew for Eastern and lived in the beautiful city of Swampscott, MA.

My connection with Iceland goes back to 1976, when I flew P-3s from the base, tracking Russian subs during the Cold War. I was also a flight instructor for the base flying club, which got me hooked on Iceland. Once you get away from the KEF area, and into surrounding areas, the beauty is breathtaking. I have been coming back ever since.

Right now, I am at the KEF airport, waiting for my flight to Minneapolis and then on to Seattle. I came for the closing of the base this past Saturday, as I had to say good-bye.

Last night, while in my room, I was watching Stöð 1, which I believe is similar to PBS, and they had an interesting documentary about the closing of the base and the security of Iceland. While it was in Icelandic, they did have interviews with some folks that were in English, so I tried to follow it as best as I could.

The base has always been a sore point with Icelanders.

In 1976, the base was not the base you know of... it was called "the agreed area"... and anyone could enter this area... the only guards were Icelandic customs officials stationed at exit points, to preclude selling food/merchandise/alcohol bought on the base on the black market.

I bring this up because Icelanders would regularly come to "the agreed area" to be sponsored into one of the clubs and drink, the cost being much, much less than in a club in Iceland. The downside was that they had to talk with us, and I got into some very interesting political conversations.

My question for you is how do Icelanders feel about closure of the base? There is a bit of an economic effect with the loss of jobs on the base, but the economy really seems to be booming from what I have seen, and perhaps they feel better off with it gone.

I enjoy reading IR, and I salute you on your move to a very beautiful land. People think I'm crazy for coming here so much (7 times in 2006), but once Iceland gets you, it really gets you... I am sure you know what I mean.

Yes, I do know what he means. And Icelandic readers, how about it? How do you feel about the base being gone?


Blogger Sigvaldi said...

Hi. I just love the fact that the base has been closed down. It was, as you mentioned, a cold war relic and should have been closed down much earlier.
Speaking of the jobs lost, the military carried out a number of duties at the airport that will now have to be carried out by civilians and I belive that there will be more job opportunities ther when the base is gone than when it was still there.
We still have an international airport to run you know.

Blogger JB said...

That's a good point, and the traffic through there is growing by leaps and bounds as I understand.

So now that the base is gone, can they switch the airport terminal over to using clean Icelandic water instead of the MIL-spec chlorinated stuff?

Blogger Þórir said...

Hi. Since I grew up in Keflavik and lived there until I was 20 years old I kind of have connection to the base area. The sound of the jets was so common to me that I stopped hearing it, but I remember guests from the country could not sleep properly because they found the sound so loud. My father was a police officer on the base so I often spent time there with him and when I was older I used to work there in the summer, both for the contractors that did most of the constructions for the army and later I workt for the army directly. So I feel a little regret when they are gone. But every change is an opportunity so now wee have to make the best of the area and the constructions they left us.

Blogger Tim said...

They're "secretly" closing a few bases over here as well, and though it signals a possible brighter future, it's as you said, Jared, jobs are lost. Though, for Norwegians, that doesn't usually last for long.

The wife and I will have to get over there sometime . . . I've always wanted to go "glacier-skating". :)

Blogger Farbror Willy said...

Of course I'm happy about it, being the tree-hugging hippy that I am. But it seems a bit stupid that the army left voluntarily, the Icelandic government should have been more pro-active and start preparing their evacuation a long time ago. Just hope the army left us with something else then a few cockroach-infested apartment buildings and a thousand tons of toxic soil.

When I was walking out with my friends and we heard the roar of fighter jets approaching (I think it was every other week that they did their little tour of Eyjafjörður) I would always yell "the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!", which of course was just as witty every time I dit it. Now that the army is gone, the next time we hear the roar of jets, it might mean that the Russians are actually coming. Which might be kind of interesting.

Blogger Pétur said...

I've had very mixed feelings about the closure of the base. In the past, I thought it was a terrible idea, but after the announcement a few months back, that the departure date was fixed and definitive, I've gradually changed my mind.
I now believe that the base closure is a good thing, but perhaps not for the same reasons as most others. I think this is the last - but very important - step in Iceland's "growing up" as an independent country. 62 years have now passed since Iceland proclaimed itself a Republic on June 17th 1944 with the knowledge that the Danish government was not in a position to do anything about it - being occupied by the Nazis and all.
In this time, Iceland has prospered and achieved more than most people ever thought possible for such a small and remote place. But there's one thing that Iceland has never had to worry about in all it's 62 independent years - and that's the defence of this not-so-hard-earned independence.
Perhaps now, that the government can't simply dismiss all worries about Iceland's vulnerabilities with the words "Oh, the Americans will take care of that", we will finally have to give some serious thought on the issue. In some respects, Iceland is like a grown-up man that refuses to move out of his parents' house because it's just too damn comfy. Iceland would never have become independent if not for US support. Now, the mother has decided that it's finally time to kick her grown-up son out of the house - because some things you just have to do on your own, even if you don't realize it at the time!


Blogger JB said...

IR reader Mindy writes in:

Pétur, I like your analogy.

During my short 5 month stay as an American in Iceland I got into many discussions about the base. I think the reason the Icelandic government wasn't more proactive about getting it out of there was for the reasons you stated: security, defense, comfort. I doubt Iceland has many enemies, but still...

The thing that I hated most about the base was when the American boys would come into Reykjavík to party. They always thought I was Icelandic - which was fine because I look it - but in trying to talk to them they were always really rude and disrespectful. I hated that they were the American representation in Iceland.

But that's just my American opinion--and I'm sure there were plenty of nice guys out there, but that was my experience.

Jared, thanks for the bit of news - I had no idea it was closing down!

Blogger JB said...

My main man Brad at the US Embassy in Reykjavík writes in:

Nice post, pretty thoughtful.

Thought you might be intrigued to hear on the job front: As of 15
Mar there were 500 Icelanders working at the base; as of 30 Sep, 330 of them had found new jobs (many at the airport, as one of your
commenters alluded to). Figures courtesy of the Reykjanesbær
employment counseling office.


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