Despite its long history of neutrality, Sweden has reintroduced conscription and brought back compulsory enlistment into the military recently due to heightened tensions with Russia.
Many of the young recruits didn’t choose the Swedish army, with the army instead choosing them. Twelve weeks into their training, the new enlisted members are ready to fire live ammunition.
The new recruits are all 19 years old, but many are still undecided as to how long they’ll remain in the military.
“I understand why it’s important and to like build up the forces of the army, so I feel like I’m doing an important thing for my country,” said Ebba Ohlen, a Swedish conscript.
“Killing another person is still on the conflict if I can do it or if I’m not the right person to be here,” said Liv Wedquest, another Swedish conscript.
Some 50,000 teenagers applied to join, with just around 4,000 making it this far.
That number will be gradually increased as part of a long-term shift in thinking by Swedish politicians which places particular importance on Sweden’s largest island.
Sweden is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member but it does conduct joint military exercises with the alliance. It’s also bolstering its defenses in important strategic locations like Gotland. The island will now be a focal point for training new recruits.
The Swedish government has re-vamped an old military base and re-instated a full time regiment that was disbanded in 2005.
In any war with Russia, military planners see Gotland as an early target across the Baltic Sea.
“The ones who have Gotland has the ability to control the sea and airways within the Baltic Sea and within the Baltic region. So that is what make the island [key] from the strategic importance from this region,” said Col. Mattias Ardin, commander of Gotland Regiment.
However, several locals residents aren’t so happy about the changes.
Robert Hall is a former aid worker who now runs an eco-village in Gotland. He sees the community he’s built as in-line with the island’s outlook.
Hall said he see views his hometown as an international meeting places where people from all over the world can meet in a peaceful community where nationality is not a big aspect.
He fears re-militarization could undermine the Swedish tradition of neutrality.
“We really do need to emphasize more the peaceful inter-cultural dialogue with the peoples around the Baltic Sea instead of preparing to train our young people to go to war with their young people,” said Hall.