This is the second in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.
The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.
The chapter I plan to write on Iceland represents the toughest challenge of the whole book. Not that visiting Iceland is difficult – it’s cheaper than ever before since the economic crisis of a couple of years ago. It’s what I want to investigate in Iceland that’s the tough part. The subject of the chapter is Iceland’s special forces, the Víkingasveitin or ‘Viking Squad’. And generally speaking, special forces tend to be publicity-shy, especially to long-haired sociologists writing strange travel books.
Why the Icelandic special forces? Soon after I came up with the idea of writing a book on big fish in small ponds, I decided that I really wanted to do a chapter on a small country’s armed forces, preferably the armed forces of a country that did not have a history of conflict. Iceland seemed the sort of place to try but after looking online I found out that the country does not have an army. What it does have though is the Víkingasveitin. Officially a branch of the police, they perform functions that special forces do in other countries, such as counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. And that was all the info I needed – I would travel to Iceland and meet the Víkingasveitin.
As with all my other missions, what interests me most is the squad members stories and experiences. What’s it like to be the only real military in a small country? Is it frustrating training so hard for a day that may never come? Is there a sense of being an elite? How hard is it to be chosen for the Víkingasveitin? How do they manage to stay discreet in a place where it is hard to stay anonymous? What do they do on a daily basis?
I have to confess also to being slightly in awe of special forces. I’m not a bellicose person and I don’t celebrate conflict. But even if I may sometimes be highly critical of the conflicts that the UK SAS, the US Delta Force and the Russian Spentnatz are sent into, I have no doubt that they are incredibly skilled and disciplined. I have no contact with the military in the UK and certainly not with the SAS, so in meeting the Víkingasveitin (hopefully) I know I will be a fish out of water. Will I be able to make a personal connection with people who have lives that are massively different to my own?
Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will be allowed to meet members of the Víkingasveitin. There are no shortcuts here – I have to respect hierarchies and approach people in the right way. I will presumably have to use pseudonyms, ensure confidentiality and allow them to vet what I write. I’ve already approached people and hopefully access will be granted.
So that’s my Iceland mission. Please support it!