There and back again: A military adventure for Danish expeditionary forces bound for Afghanistan
Thomas Randrup Pedersen
(Royal Danish Defence College)
Paper short abstract:
If "to travel is to live", as Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, what are we then to make of the travelling at stake when 'our troops' deploy to remote war zones? Based on fieldwork with Danish ISAF troops, this paper explores the tour of duty as an adventurous form of military mobility.
Paper long abstract:
If "to travel is to live", as Hans Christian Andersen wrote once upon a time, what are we then to make of the travelling at stake when 'our troops' deploy to distant war zones? Based on ethnographic fieldwork with two Danish combat units before, during and after deployment to Helmand, this paper explores the tour of duty as an adventurous form of military mobility. Ethnographically, I probe into the home-away-home structure of the deployment cycle for some of the very last Danish ISAF forces: their preparing for war, their being at war and their returning from war. Anthropologically, I conceive their tour of duty as a search for adventure and thereby as a quest for personal transformation - a struggle for self-becoming in existential, moral and social terms. I argue that the Danish soldiers, I have followed, were broadly speaking seeking out the US-led war in Afghanistan as an opportunity, however temporarily, for pursuing a life in movement, a life in transition, a life oscillating between the 'home' and the 'front', the familiar and the unknown, or to draw upon Michael D. Jackson, the 'civilisation' and the 'wilderness'. I show that the tour of duty potentially entails a 'happy ending' adventure insofar that the deployment offers the troops in question a chance of trying their strength on the world. By the same token, I demonstrate that the tour might easily turn into an unsuccessful adventure if the soldiers fail or miss out on the deployment cycle's tests and trials.
To the "front" and back "home" again: military mobilities and the social transitions they entail