Sirius: Patrolling the far north

© N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

20 August 2015

Tobias Kolhorn is a Sirius patrolman. For 2 years he has been criss-crossing the Greenland National Park for the Danish navy.

For 24 months he has not returned home nor seen his relatives. No telephone network, not even an Internet connection, Sirius patrolmen have no communication with the outside world. During this time, Tobias left the Arctic Circle only once: to have a mandatory dental check-up in Reykjavik, Iceland. When we were docked near the military base of Ella, the Taranautes were able to get acquainted with this young sergeant.

Base militaire danoise d'Ella, côte est du Groenland.

Danish military base Ella, east coast of Greenland 

Tobias is part of an elite unit of the Danish navy – the Sirius Patrol. A group of carefully selected young men who must meet very high physical and psychological requirement. There were between 50 and 100 candidates, but only 7 were selected to integrate an intense training program in Greenland. Like a  “Survivor” program without cameras. For 7 months, Tobias and his colleagues were introduced to survival skills in the Arctic and the handling of dogsleds. They now know how to deal with a pack, and can take care of the animals in case of injury. And of course they have mastered the use of guns  to confront a bear or other threat. The mission of Sirius is well defined: they must perform  reconnaissance patrols with sleds  over long distances, and enforce Danish sovereignty over this immense Arctic region.

Tobias Kolhorn was selected to join the elite unit of the Navy: the Sirius Patrol. Cut off from the outside world, he has been traversing Greenland by dogsled for 24 months

Tobias Kolhorn was selected to join the elite unit of the Navy: the Sirius Patrol. Cut off from the outside world, he has been traversing Greenland by dogsled for 24 months

This unit was established in 1941 during World War II to prevent the Germans from landing along the northeast coast of Greenland. At the time the enemy was seeking to establish secret meteorological bases in the area in order to obtain information necessary to support the U-Boats and predict weather changes in Europe. Today the unit is still operating in the region, from the west coast of Hall Land up to Kap Biot, north of Fleming Fjord. A distance of 2,100 kilometers as the crow flies, but actually spanning 16,000 kilometers of rugged coastline.

The young sergeant leads Taranauts on a tour of the Ella military base. From left to right:  Dominique Limbour, Tobias Kolhorn and Sylvie Duboué.

The young sergeant leads Taranauts on a tour of the Ella military base. From left to right: Dominique Limbour, Tobias Kolhorn and Sylvie Duboué.

Tobias is completing a 2-year contract and is about to return to Denmark where he worked as a carpenter before joining the unit. When asked what prompted him to get involved, he replied: “I wanted to live this experience, discover the nature of Greenland, and test my strength in an inhospitable environment.” Here, the young Sirius officer discovered a simple life, punctuated by winter patrols, life with dogs and military discipline. He learned about himself and was able to test his limits: “If you get the right training, you’re ready physically and mentally, you can face anything. Now I know how to discipline myself, manage my stress, and make the right decisions at the right time.”

The region the Sirius patrol crossed by dog sled.

The region the Sirius patrol crossed by dog sled.

In summer, the Sirius patrol sails through the fjords to refuel the bases and huts they will use during the winter. When the sun no longer rises during the long months of ice, Sirius criss-crosses the north of the territory: “We patrol from November 1st to  December 20th , then we spend the Christmas holidays at the Daneborg base. We leave between January 20th  and February 20th.  Two of us work together with  13 dogs, we camp in tents, sometimes in huts. The temperature can drop to -35 ° C.”

When on  a surveillance mission, the days begin at 8 am by a call to the Daneborg station. Then they must harness the dogs and go off for 6 hours. The ritual is always the same: drive the sleds in the cold, pitch the tent, feed the dogs, making sure that each one has its ration and so on.

The Sirius patrol  traverses northern Greenland, a small part of a territory the size of Europe.

The Sirius patrol traverses northern Greenland, a small part of a territory the size of Europe.

When he arrived in Greenland, Tobias was struck by the immensity of the landscape: “At first it was difficult to determine the distances: 5km or 25km, impossible to say. There’s nothing to see on  the horizon.”  He became familiar with the territory, and in summer he travels over it  running rather than walking.  What does he miss the most in Denmark? Tall trees, the smell of spring, his friends and playing soccer. The little things of everyday life that he doesn’t have here.

: During the winter, the sergeant is responsible for a pack of 13 Greenland dogs.

During the winter, the sergeant is responsible for a pack of 13 Greenland dogs.

What will he miss when he returns home? The simple life, with nothing superfluous, and of course the dogs, to whom he has become attached. Tobias doesn’t know yet what he’ll do back home. Probably travel for a while, then settle down, and why not join the police. He wants to work with people and thinks he can make a difference by becoming a policeman.

Noëlie Pansiot

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