...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Not your regular day in the mall

P.S. (and more pictures!) added on March 30, 2008.

Chances are, if you've been out in Norrköping City doing your Saturday shopping today, you saw these guys with guns and camo paint on other side of the display window.

In fact, they might have blocked your way to the exit.

And they raced you to the other side of the street.


People constantly asked what was going on, some with worry on their faces. "What's going on here? Is there some kind of raid?" Even the neighborhood street artist stopped his lively singing and was staring at them with his mouth hanging open. Apparently, he hadn't seen something like this in all his weekends standing on the curb singing to the Beatles. Then, the army trucks came roaring down the street. And guys in camo riding motorcycles. Then an emcee, a marching band, and people handing out brochures. It's the hemvärnet (Swedish Home Guard) recruitment day, they said. The soldiers are advancing towards Vasaparken, where they have display booths and exhibitions.

The street artist started playing again, relieved. The boys in green continued their advance, pointing their guns at rooftops and on the lookout for enemies. Interestingly, they were good at keeping their role, even with all those shoppers and bystanders pointing at them and taking pictures. Take this guy, for example:

As war photographer Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, then you are not close enough."

I was actually right on my way to Vasaparken too, to meet Marcus. The reconnaissance platoon in which he is part has a display tent there, and I promised to show up. He mentioned something about an exhibition in town, but I didn't know I would be walking with the exhibition team all the way with them to the park!

At Vasaparken, several exhibit tents were put up, each showing a bit of how work was at the hemvärnet. First was the medics tent, where this man gladly showed me the ways of putting on fake injuries. [Ed: They use actors to play the wounded in some military exercises, and realistic-looking injuries build a sense of urgency and also make the exercises more believable for the medics, so that they can later better can judge who to treat first and how to handle the wounded in real stress situations. Training, they say, should be as realistic as possible].

"Yeah, and then they put realistic make-up around it, and fake blood dripping all over you..."

"And this eye goes here. See?"

In the meantime, the camo-painted guys were sneaking their way towards the park in order to capture a snow fort in the middle of the field, supposedly taken by the enemy forces. There was a "firefight" between the two parties before the Swedish hemvärnet successfully took over the fort. As expected :-)

I had to label it in the picture because it wasn't even that easy to see in real life.

I then took a tour to the kitchen tent (which is actually a truck that folds out into a kitchen), was able to get up an army truck and get a hold of its machine gun, and went to another display where, when I asked about the weight of a Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, was allowed to take it on my shoulder (another – I guess military speak – way of saying: "It's heavy"). All of them were very accommodating though, and were eager to answer questions. Most of them also took their families and friends to watch the displays. One of them even had a Labrador puppy dressed in camo dog clothes!

Of course, I got to meet up with Marcus too. I caught sight of him as he was scooping out pails of muddy water from the doorstep of their tent, which inside was actually very cozy and warm. I guess they gotta be, if you have to live in them. He and his friends were also supposed to set up an observation post for display, but scrapped the idea because digging in the park wasn't allowed. He and I walked the displays again together, and I think he might have even been the one who inspired this young teen to sign up for the youth section.

Marcus at (and inside, the boy peeping out of) the tent.

When Marcus showed him up the parked army truck, the boy moved the steering wheel with an expression of pure excitement and boyish glee that it felt like a million just watching him "steer" the truck, so oblivious of the others around him or even the unreality of his own driving.

Hemvärnet made his day, for sure.

P.S. The Swedish Home Guard is a local defense unit whose tasks include being able to protect important infrastructure from sabotage, help out in the case of natural disasters like forest fires, or helping the police look for missing persons. Members of the Home Guard need to have had basic military training (though it doesn't matter how long ago this was), and complete at least 20 hours of military training per year. They could be your dad (or mom), uncle (or aunt), local candy store owner, hairdresser, landlord – who have to be ready to get out of the couch when something in your vicinity happens, as local knowledge is supposed to be one of the strengths of the Home Guard. For more about the hemvärnet:

External links:
Swedish Home Guard Wiki article
Official Swedish Home Guard site in English
Homepage of the 41st company (where Marcus belongs to) - with pictures
(in tune with that bit about local knowledge, their company is responsible for the archipelago in which we sailed last year and where Marcus has been sailing with his parents as a kid).
Pictures from their latest exercise (which I mentioned in the linssoppa article)

Clockwise from top left: the army truck roars down the shopping street, a Lab puppy in camo, the squads advancing towards the snow fort, a medic doing CPR to a dummy, Marcus teaching the boy how the machine gun works, and the hemvärnet's own marching band.


Blogger aka Cheryl said...

so cool! and marcus is part of it :D

at first akala ko elaborate marketing activity for food or fashion -- well it IS a marketing ploy, but for the military.

i wonder if they (AFP) do that here, would people even stop to stare? a couple of times since i started to work in makati, dun nagrarally yung mga tao, and i think people hardly notice the military anymore. parang they just equate rallies to hassle/ more traffic. sad.

but anyway! bakit naman may fake injuries sila? for classroom discussion? "this is how a torn up finger looks like." hahaha

1:26 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Yeah it was funny how the guy was so enthusiastic to show me the fake wounds. They're so that the medic-exercises become more realistic. Actors are hired to act wounded and they place them in "war situations" during the exercises to build up stress (and the feeling of urgency) for the medics. It's also supposed to make their exercises more believable -- managing which ones to treat first, how to handle the injured. Marcus said that they could actually look quite realistic!

9:27 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

I added an edit in the article :-)

9:32 AM

Anonymous Lara said...

i wish something exciting like this would happen here in ljusdal...sigh :-)

until when is markus' post with the homeguard?

11:40 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

There are exciting things happening everywhere, I think :-) I mean, the small everyday things that are just so different but in a way, also the same, and everyday surprises hiding behind routine. Well, from time to time you get people in green clothes advancing on the street, but those are just bonuses since they don't happen everyday :o)

I'm not sure if Home Guard duty is bound by time. It's not actually active military service -- kind of like a standby local militia, to help in times of emergencies. I know that Marcus pays 15 kronor a year (yes, that cheap!)to join the military exercises that they have. The rest of the exercises are tax-funded.

Anyway, so I guess you're a member of the Home Guard as long as you have the requirements, not (or cannot be) in active military duty -- because of age or other reasons -- and as long as you pay 15 a year. :-)

7:07 PM

Blogger PJ said...

the puppy in camo was too cute for words. :D

And i really liked the part where you described how this young teenage kid looked when Marcus let him sit behind the wheel of the truck. I could really imagine the sparkle in his eyes.

(Hahaha, I'm such a sap!)

3:19 AM


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