The Military Presence in Iceland

Iceland gained its independence from Denmark during WWII.  The British, understanding the strategic significance of Iceland in the North Atlantic, asked for permission to fortify the island.  Despite the war and in spite of not having a military, Iceland refused.  Being both arrogant and pragmatic, the English proceeded to occupy the island anyway, setting the stage for nearly six decades of friction between the two countries.  When the United States replaced England as the defender of Island against the Hessian hordes, Icelanders were suitably grateful.  When the war was over and the Iron Curtain had divided Europe, Iceland was a choice bit of territory.  If you look at a map of the North Atlantic youíll notice that any submarine or ship leaving Russia must pass to one side or the other of Iceland.  The country that controls Iceland controls the North Atlantic.  As a member of NATO Iceland entered the cold war on the side of democracy, but without a military Iceland couldnít defend itself.  The United States committed its forces to the defense of Iceland and the Greenland/Iceland/UK gap.  For many years the Navy tracked Soviet submarines through the use of its SOSUS warning nets and the P-3 Orion.

Susanna (and Ari) in her cave.  Who enjoys their job more?

Safety Boy in his cave.

I was assigned to the 57th Fighter Squadron just in time for it to be downsized.  Its twelve F-15C fighters were sent to Tyndall AFB and I was suddenly out of a job.  I quickly found a job as the Wing FOD Monitor and Flight Safety NCO, a position I held until I left Iceland.  Part of my responsibilities included the Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard Program, (BASH,) a program that forced me to become a birder, at least for a while.  While I was there General McPeak decided the 37th Fighter Wing designation along with it's heritage should be transferred to Misawa AB, Japan. We became the 85th Wing, and then as part of the drawdown became the 85th Group.

Susanna was out of work for quite a while.  The Navy civilian personnel system seemed to favor the wives of the officers over the wives of the enlisted, and the wives of the sailors over the wives of airmen.  In time Susanna cracked the code and was hired as the director of Project Player, a Navy program to provide activities for the single sailor.  It was part of the Moral, Welfare, and Recreation division, (MWR,).  Susanna soon was working with various Icelandic organizations to provide a wide variety of activities to the base population.  It was in her capacity of program director and mine as a volunteer driver that we explored Iceland.

DC-3(?) at Sunset, (Picture borrowed from NAS Keflavik website.)

NAS Keflavik isnít much to look at, so we didnít.  Instead we took every opportunity to leave the base and wander around the strange and wonderful countryside.  To their credit, the Icelanders donít charge the United States government to use the land it occupies.  (They did force us to build them an international airport, though.)  This is because no one wants the land.  The Icelanders call it Satanís Breath because it has the worst weather on the island.  Because of the bad weather a large number of American servicemen and women never leave the base.  That is a mistake.  We soon discovered that even when the weather was terrible on the Reykjanes peninsula, the weather could be much nicer in Reykjavik and beautiful once we crossed the pass and descended into Hveragerdi, a town on the other side of the mountains.

(NOTE: This aircraft is on a pedestal just outside the NAS Keflavik commanderís window.  The commander declares a weather alert and sends everyone home when the blizzards get so bad he can no longer see the nearest wing of the aircraft.)


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Last edited on December 31, 2005