Frank Partridge, Thule store manager; Timothy Barba, shift manager; Osa Fatuesi, assistant store manager; Bill Miele, shift manager; Deborah Mills, barber; and Phyllis Blackburn, store manager, are serving at the Thule Exchange in Greenland.

By Air or By Sea: Keeping Thule Airmen Ready, Resilient at the Edge of the World

Frank Partridge, Thule store manager; Timothy Barba, shift manager; Osa Fatuesi, assistant store manager; Bill Miele, shift manager; Deborah Mills, barber; and Phyllis Blackburn, store manager, are serving at the Thule Exchange in Greenland.

 

No roads lead to Greenland’s Thule Air Base—literally. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Thule AB is the northernmost U.S. military installation. It’s only accessible by military plane most of the year or freight boat when the ice has melted enough to access the port.

At this installation, six Exchange associates ensure that 140 Airmen and 500 Danish and Greenlander contractors have everything they need—including a sense of community.

“We are a big part of their day-to-day lives,” Shift Manager Tim Barba said. “Those stationed here depend on the Exchange to provide a connection to the rest of the world.”

High stakes mission

The Exchange has operated at Thule since 1971 and supports the readiness and resiliency of the 12th Space Warning Squadron and the 21st Space Wing.

The 12 SWS operates a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System designed to detect and track intercontinental ballistic missiles. The 21st Space Wing uses a global network of sensors to provide missile warning, space surveillance and space control to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Air Force Space Command.

“We are here to provide more than just a means to get what Airmen need while serving in a remote location. The Thule Exchange has a huge morale function.”

-Shift Manager Bill Miele

The mission for these units has high stakes. Shift Manager Bill Miele recognizes the significance of the Exchange’s presence on the installation.

“We are here to provide more than just a means to get what Airmen need while serving in a remote location,” Miele said. “The Thule Exchange has a huge morale function. We take that responsibility to heart and go out of our way to support those stationed here.”

Fresh vegetables, too

Since there is no commissary, the Thule Exchange offers a selection of produce. Fresh vegetables from the Defense Logistics Agency and fresh milk are flown in weekly from Virginia.

The Exchange partners with the Defense Commissary Agency to deliver frozen meat monthly from Europe to Thule.

In addition to fresh foods, shoppers can find everything from disposable kitchenware and dry goods to meat snacks and home goods to a range of souvenirs—apparel, glassware, keychains and more—to commemorate their time in Greenland. A barber is on site Tuesday through Saturday.

Volunteering for Thule

Associates must volunteer to PCS to Thule, with most stints lasting one year. Extensions usually last only for up to one additional year. Despite this, at least two current Thule associates want to stay longer.

The Thule AB’s Exchange, in the early 1970s.

“I’ve already requested my second-year extension,” said Miele, who has served at Thule for six months. “There is so much to see and enjoy here. I’d like to stay for four more years, if they’ll let me, so I can continue to explore.”

For barber Deborah Bills, this assignment is her third to Thule, having served there from 1998- 2001 and again from 2002-2008. She has been back for about a year and has no plans to leave.

“My mission is to make people happy and feel good about themselves,” Bills said. “I have five more years until I retire, and I would like to stay at least that long.”

Being stationed at Thule is a one-of-a-kind experience, associates said.

“When it comes up on the list, put your name in,” Miele said. “It’s a remarkable place full of opportunity for adventure. Plus, it’s fun to tell the kids that Santa lives just down the street.”

 

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8 Comments

  1. David Goguen on March 13, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    Thule is a great place to go. It’s truly an experience.

    David Goguen Assistant Store Manager / Store Manager in Thule from October 2014 to February 2016

    • Steve Smith on March 13, 2019 at 5:40 pm

      Mr. Goguen:

      Thank you for writing to your Exchange Post. I can only imagine how being deployed up there would be! Polar bears for friends, but can they use the MILITARY STAR card?

      Does anybody else out there in Exchange Post Land have comments about Thule? Type your thoughts in the comment box and hit enter. We want to hear!

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

      • Ian on March 14, 2019 at 12:24 pm

        Steve,

        Unfortunately the Polar bears cannot utilize the Military Star card but we allowed them to use Exchange gift cards if they had them since residents of the base are welcome to shop at the store freely. They were quite partial to the stuffed animals shaped like seals though.

        It was a great experience and I would do it all over again. We got to see polar bears, seals, arctic foxes, arctic hares, musk oxen, a mix of birds during the “summer”, walruses, narwhals, sled dogs, and lots of base organized excursions. (Jan 17 – May 18).

        • Steve Smith on March 14, 2019 at 1:50 pm

          Ian:

          Thank you for writing to your Exchange Post. I can only imagine the memorable experiences of serving the troops in Greenland.
          As the Exchange historian in addition to being the Exchange Post editor, I have pictures of our World War II PXs in Iceland.

          Did you know that we introduced the first popcorn machine to the country of Iceland during World War II? It was in our main PX in Renjavik (spelled wrong, I know). We don’t have PXs in Iceland now.

          Readers, let’s keep the conversation going!

          What are your thoughts about being deployed to exotic places like Greenland or elsewhere? Type your thoughts in the comment box and hit enter.

          Steve Smith
          Editor, The Exchange Post

  2. Phyllis Blackburn on March 14, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Thule was the most unique assignment I have had in my 25+ years with AAFES. It is a one of a kind place where everyone supports everyone else. Our mission to bring a touch of home to everyone stationed there is very rewarding. I would not trade my experience for anything else in the world. Getting out after work and on your days off is a must to see the difference we make to the Thule Team. It is also a place of wonderful beauty. No matter the time of the year or darkness or light, the same scenery offers a different view each time you look at it. I would definitely do it again.

    • Steve Smith on March 14, 2019 at 7:52 pm

      Ms. Blackburn:

      Thank you for writing to your Exchange Post. I’m sure that was a most unique assignment!

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

  3. Chris Wilson on March 15, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    I had a great experience at Thule. With co-workers, that end up feeling like family, but also the connections you make with every person stationed and living there that you can take with you where ever you go. The experiences are also something that you could never have anywhere else either, looking south to see the Northern Lights, the wild life, and the scenery.

    September 17 – August 18

    • Steve Smith on March 15, 2019 at 5:43 pm

      Mr. Wilson:

      Thank you so much for writing to your Exchange Post. I can only imagine how being at Thule can foster a sense of family.

      Anybody else out there in Exchange Post Land want to tell us your thoughts? Let’s keep the conversation going!

      Type your thoughts in the comment box and hit enter. We want to read them!

      Steve Smith
      Editor, The Exchange Post

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