19 August, 1999
Aloha from Thule, Kevin Kelly, Dr. Radtke's research assistant and I have been traveling since 9:10 PM Tuesday night Hawaii time to Baltimore International Washington International airport and arrived at around 6:00PM Wednesday night east coast time. There were many people waiting to get on a flight to Mildenhall, England at the International terminal and initially we thought they would all be going to Thule and that surprised us. We had to wait until 9:00PM to check in and then the flight left at 3:00AM. John Babaluk, the Canadian fisheries biologist met us at 8:00 PM and we had a late dinner together after checking our baggage. John is from Winnipeg and has been doing research on arctic fish for 25 years. He has been to many remote locations and has even camped out in the arctic for 4-month periods doing his research. He also has a polar bear concern and we talked about different methods of protection. He was going to bring a perimeter electric warning fence to put around our camp. The fence sets off a flare to frighten the bear and to wake the campers. We decided that an Inuit hunter and a proven bear dog would be safer and more appropriate.
We boarded the plane at 3:00AM Thursday morning with several soldiers returning from R & R and some civilian contractors who would be employed at the base for a year. The soldiers also do a year of duty. Thule is an air force base built in 1952 whose mission is to house an early warning missile defense system. At one time there were 12000 soldiers here. There are around 120 soldiers stationed here now and around 400 support personnel; they are dismantling many of the structures because of the high cost of heating them. The steam heat, drinking water, and sewage are carried through pipes from building to building above ground. If it melted the permafrost layer it would be a muddy quagmire. There is a large Danish and Greenlandic presence in the contractors that actually keep the base going.
We got off the DC-8 at 11:00AM Greenlandic time Thursday and were greeted aloha style at the runway by the air force commander, Colonel Hatch and his second in command. It was very cold and windy and I asked if I could take pictures and immediately started clicking away. Inside the command building we were greeted by the Danish Police Inspector and the Danish Liaison Officer whisked away to his offices. The Danish Police Inspector's jurisdiction is the largest in the entire world. We were informed that our permit to be on the base and conduct research in Greenland had not yet been approved. He told us that we would have to stay on base until the permit was official. We returned to the Base terminal and were met by TSgt. Wilkerson who gave us a quick tour of the base and then to our lodgings with the Peregrine Falcon Foundation facilities; their web site is www.peregrinefund.org. We met Jack Stephens who works as a meteorologist for the air force and has lived here for 27 years. He is an amazing wildlife photographer and is creating a web site for his images. He stays here year round and works with the Peregrine Falcon Foundation when they return each year in the spring.
We checked to make sure our gear had arrived and found it at the helicopter hanger. We opened all of the containers to check the equipment and then went to supper at the Dundas dining hall. For $3 we received an excellent meal. The workers were mostly Danish and Inuit. I noticed the Inuit population spoke both English and Danish, besides their native tongue. We returned to our new base and I quickly nodded off to sleep.
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