Sweden’s first new conscripts prepare to repel Russian invaders

Sweden's first new conscripts prepare to repel Russian invaders

Evelina Lööf, 19, commander of one of the vehicles, is bright-eyed with adrenaline after her first exercise firing live rounds on the move.   

“The most dramatic moment was when we got to the field right in front of the sea,” she says. “There were a lot of enemy vehicles. You have to tell the driver where to drive and the gunner where to shoot, and at the same time, you have to report to the boss, so it’s a lot to think about.”

Part of the reason Sweden’s parliament voted to bring back the draft in 2017 lies just 250 miles southeast across the Baltic sea: the heavily militarised Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, from where Russian planes make incursions into Swedish airspace, with the most recent taking place only days before the exercise.

“When the wall came down, everybody thought we had entered an era of eternal peace. Not many people think that any more,” Col. Stennabb smiles. 

“We’ve seen that Russia is prepared to use military means to accomplish political objectives, not just in Crimea but in Syria. We’ve seen a more aggressive behaviour by Russia in the Baltic. And there’s the rearmament that Russia is engaged in.” 

Capt. Ström, who spent time in Afghanistan coordinating the training of local soldiers, is somewhat less complimentary about the new intake. They are, he notes, “not quite as physically capable” as those who did national service before it was abolished in 2010. 

“They’re not so much doing sports activity,” he says, miming swiping screens on a smartphone. “When I conducted my national service, we had these farmer boys, who were big and strong, good at mechanics and quite practical. But nowadays we don’t reach them in the same way as we did.” 

He has had to be careful to only gradually increase the amount of equipment the conscripts have to carry during early exercises. 

“So we don’t break them,” he smiles. “What we have seen when we conduct the three-month basic training is that there are quite a lot of injuries due to fitness levels.” 

Back at the rendezvous point on the edge of the firing range, the second four-vehicle platoon has been waiting its turn for hours in the sub-zero temperatures.  

“We have a saying that Swedish soldiers don’t freeze, they shake with joy,” jokes Hampus Petersson, 19.

Gabriel Rosenqvist, a pony-tailed 19-year-old who serves as a gunner, is warming up in the cramped rear section of his vehicle. 

“In the beginning it was kind of rough,” he says of the basic training. “But now that we’ve begun our training in the combat vehicle, they’ve eased up.”

Axel Nilsson, who is sitting opposite, chips in: “It’s very strict, a lot of different rules that you have to follow, like how you make your bed. How you shine your shoes.” “

“And how you speak to officers,” adds Private Rosenqvist. 

Daniel West, who has been eavesdropping outside, sums up: “They wanted to get the civilian out of you.” 

Private Rosenqvist was in the classroom in the nearby town of Hässleholm  last April when he heard he was being called up. 

“I received an email and I looked up and I was like, ‘hey yeah! finally I know what to do when school ends’,” he says. 

He agrees that his generation of conscripts is different from those called up from the 1960s to the 1990s, when nearly 85 percent of Swedish men carried out what is known in Sweden as ‘lumpen’ and it was common to try and find a way to out of it or even refuse on conscientious grounds. 

“Forty or 50 years ago, everyone got drafted, so there were a lot of people who didn’t want to be here, now almost everyone wants to be here, they don’t try to escape,” he suggests.  

All the 3,700 people who was called up last summer, out of 94,000 school leavers, were drawn from the 36,000 who had expressed an interest in military service and passed a test. 

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