Pathfinders in Norway

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shawn P. Beskar, Commander
  • 426th Air Base Squadron

The presence of permanently-assigned Air Force personnel in Norway comes as a surprise to most Airmen.  “I had no idea we had a base in Norway” is a typical reaction, followed by the question “What aircraft do you support?”  Strictly speaking, we do not have a base in Norway nor do we have an active flying mission.  Nevertheless, America’s Air Force is present in Norway, Land of the Midnight Sun.    

Since 1952, the U.S. Air Force has maintained a small but significant enduring presence in the Kingdom of Norway.  Our unit was once designated the 7240th Air Base Squadron and located in Norway’s capital city of Oslo.  In 1994, the unit was re-flagged as the 426th Air Base Squadron and moved to Sola Sea, a former German seaplane base on the Hafjrsfjord, adjacent to the Stavanger-Sola Lufthavn (airport).  In 1999, the 426th Air Base Squadron moved to the Jåttå Military Compound, a small Norwegian military base on the flank of the mountain Jåttånuten and current home to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Joint Warfare Centre (NATO JWC).  Over the years the 426th Air Base Squadron has been subordinate to a variety of organizations including the 603d Regional Support Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom.  Since 2005, we have been part of the Pathfinders—the 501st Combat Support Wing.   

Pathfinders in the 426th Air Base Squadron include active duty military, U.S. civilian, and local national civilian personnel.  Our Airmen collectively execute a mission that serves to enable combat operations, engage joint and international partners, and enhance quality of life.  We enable combat operations by serving as the U.S. National Support Element to the NATO Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) and acting as the provider of Common-User Logistics for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in Norway.  We engage joint and international partners by maintaining daily working relationships with the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, NATO JWC, Marine Coordination Element-Norway, Norwegian Ministry of Defence, and a number of Norwegian civil authorities such as the Politi (police).  We enhance quality of life by the support we deliver to the 16 Allies represented at JWC and through our internal efforts to build resiliency among Airmen.

In our role as U.S. National Support Element to the NATO JWC, the 426th Air Base Squadron acts as a mini-Mission Support Group.  We integrate new arrivals by helping secure off-base housing, in-process with our Finance and Contracting Flight, receive household goods and privately owned vehicles through our very own Personal Property Office and Vehicle Processing Center, enroll school-aged children in the Non-DoD Schools Program, obtain a box in our post office, and enroll in the TRICARE Overseas Program at our Medical Aid Station.  During a tour of duty, personnel enjoy the offerings of our Services Flight including Nordic and Alpine skiing, and a variety of fun community and outdoor events through the seasons.  Our legal office assists personnel with claims, wills, and other legal documents.  Our Cyber Flight ensures U.S. personnel have access to unclassified and classified communications systems.  Our Admin Flight is the DoD’s only source for new ID cards and passports in Scandinavia.  Finally, our Security Specialist helps keep us safe and ready to address a range of threats including terrorist acts and espionage.

Outside the fence line of Jåttånuten, the 426th Air Base Squadron plays a critical role in the movement of all DoD cargo in and out of Norway and protecting DoD interests in Norway and Denmark.  Our Logistics Flight and Legal Office play leading roles in supporting the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway and Marine Rotational Forces-Europe, and liaising with senior U.S. and Host Nation officials on Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction cases and Status of Forces Agreement issues.  It is not uncommon to find our logisticians north of the Arctic Circle where the sun never sets in the summer (and it never rises in the winter!) facilitating the shipment of cargo for our joint partners, nor is it uncommon for our Host Nation Advisor or Staff Judge Advocate to be in conversation with the Defense Attaché or in the office of our Flag Officer U.S. Senior Country Representative helping build and maintain what has been described by senior officials as the best relationship between the United States and Norway since World War II.   

The Pathfinders in the 426th Air Base Squadron represent a small but nevertheless significant enduring American presence in the Kingdom of Norway.  We are guests here and I personally feel fortunate to for this rare opportunity to serve with Airmen—military and civilian—in our ally Norway’s pristine and incomparable natural environment.