Support at the frontline: Why young people become soldiers

War zones are never like play yards, every moment there can be bullets and bombs devitalising people’s life, yet young men and women still attend the war on their initiatives.

By Jiaxin He (Ellen)

Jacob Palmer Bjerborg’s wife was pregnant with their son, waiting for him to come back and hug the baby as a father. Meanwhile, he just lost one of his soldiers in the cruel war and had seen so many people get wounded around him. Bjerborg, a major in Danish Army, fought in Afghanistan for a continuous six months from 2009 to 2010.

The turbulent and extreme situation in Afghanistan is undoubtedly dangerous. There were moments during the mission when Major Bjerborg “was thinking really hard about whether it make sense to me to be in that situation and experience feelings like that” after his soldiers were wounded even died.

However, he always found motivations, like many other soldiers, and reached a conclusion that “there is something really making me say that it is not the right place for me to be, but there are some other things that make sense to me as a human being and motivate me as a human being.”

In Denmark, young people volunteer to get trained for totally over one year if they are physically qualified and then, after getting a “pass” in the mental inspection by their commanders, they can become private soldiers and join international military missions.

There are four common motivations.

According to Kristian Søby Kristensen, a Senior Researcher from the Centre for Military Studies, the University of Copenhagen, “a big part of the motivation is sort of to prove themselves and get to know themselves better by doing something extreme”. He says many Danish high school students go travelling for half a year and join the army after graduation, in order to figure out what kind of people they are.

Comradeship is the second and significant reason.

“It has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of very very good friends and lots of nice, intelligent, skilful and helpful people,” says Mark Winther, a military analyst and also a major of Danish army. The comradeship among the soldiers and fellow officers is something people doing other jobs can hardly gain.

Joining the army enables him to see the world as well, through his international posting commission. Forty-three countries he has been to and most of them are visited during his job in the military.

“I cherish the experience I have got,” Major Winther said.

Based on the experience of Major Bjerborg, there are two more common motivations behind people joining the armed forces. One is the feeling of being a part of something important and the greater good. The other one is quite realistic – this is what soldiers are good at after training and it is a job to make a decent amount of money if they go to international missions.

Major Bjerborg’s wife, Tanja Palmer Bjerborg, says that her feelings were mostly about being worried something could happen to Major Bjerborg when he was about to leave for Afghanistan while she was pregnant.

But it was also during that period when she realised “what it was all about for him”: “the soldier and officer was a truly integrated part of his personality.” She understood it was also part of the man that he “wanted to be the father of our children.”

When talking about his experience in Afghanistan, Major Bjerborg says that “This is not easy and is not all good, but in the end, it is what I have to do because this is who I am.”

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