Good morning soldiers – and welcome to I 19

The National Service soldiers of platoon I 19. Photo: Niklas Ehlén/FBB

Company corridor, Wednesday, 7.30 am

The silence is overwhelming.
24 pairs of marching boots on the back row
23 pairs at the front.

Lines, impeccably straight.. The tips of the boots are precisely placed in line with the edge of the stone tiles on the floor. In the front row, on the far left, stands Conscript Bolin. He is the hundredth soldier here. Or maybe number 101. All of these, if you must, around 100 National Servicemen have got in, exactly on this spot, the correct angle between the tips of the toes down to the centimetres and millimetres, and have waited and waited. Perhaps anxiously, but surely with a certain nervousness. Is my uniform in order? What was it I was supposed to report? Am I going to say everything in the right order?
If these aged walls and worn floors of a barracks of the year 1908 had eyes and ears and could speak, what stories wouldn’t we then be able to hear?
The noise that is created, or rather the explosion of thunder that overwhelms us, is impossible to describe. It must seem all terribly exaggerated to anyone who hasn’t themselves stood midst it all as a National Service soldier, in a company corridor, in one of Sweden’s military barracks that all seem to be from the first decade of the last century.
The silence, broken by the platoon commander’s determined footstep, followed, as always, by a loud, short and clipped ...
The sound of heels brought abruptly together. The platoon commander’s distinct:
Good morning soldiers

And now the explosion, which echoes over the yard, towards Boden’s town centre two kilometres in one direction and towards fortress Boden in the other. Or, at any rate, that’s how it feels as 47 men articulate each syllable in perfect unison: 
120 decibels. At least. Without ear muffs. Jesus wept. 
The first platoon of the rifle company is ready to meet yet another day. 
It’s less than three weeks since they reported for duty. 47 blokes. Not a single gal.

Kusträsks shooting range, 11.20 am 

Now then, Olsson, you can’t look like that. Pull your gut in, as if you’ve just been punched in the stomach, huddle up, up with your arse, now, up with your weapon, present arms!  The soldiers of our platoon arrived at the Boden garrison to report for duty less than three weeks ago. They weren’t then acquainted with Captain Kassberg and Lieutenants Bergström and Ingvarsson. Possibly they greeted their teachers at school with a nod of the head. They were certainly not silent and dress depended on personal style or as the mood took them ...

Yes, Olsson, what was it you said? 
I think there’s something wrong with the mechanism, when ...
Indeed, and who and what am I? 
Captain, captain! 
Well then, let’s take it again from the beginning. Stand up straight! 
Captain, Private Olsson reporting a catch in the weapon’s mechanism, Captain!  Good, but why didn’t you says so in the first place?

Lunch break during shooting practice, 11.45 am

Why did I, at 39 years of age, suddenly get the idea of volunteering for overseas service for the first time?  That’s not difficult to answer. I got to hear that this company will be offered a third term, with a direct route to the units stationed in Afghanistan. That’s what gives me an extra kick. Getting to know the lads for nearly a year and half, learning what each soldier is made of ... that’s what made my decision for me. I hadn’t previously felt that inner drive that you need for service on an overseas mission. 

My wife, Maria, is a teacher and we have two boys, who will be four and six when I leave with the platoon. I get all the support I need from Maria, but it hasn’t been an easy decision for any of us.

I did my National Service myself here at I 19. That was in 1989, the year after my soldiers were born. 

Actually, I’m quite light-hearted most of the time, but only most of the time. If my soldiers see me as a basically happy and friendly person, they’ll find it easier to understand and accept it when I have to put my foot down over something. There’s no doubt then that the situation is serious.

Jonas Kassberg, head of platoon