The homecoming parade of DANCON ISAF 16: Ritual reflections of reality
When Danish soldiers from DANCON ISAF 15 returned, in August 2013, Danish mass media framed it as a visible manifestation of Denmark’s exit from Afghanistan – and largely ignored that more than 250 Danish troops were routinely deploying as Team 16 to spend the coming six months in the Afghan Helmand Province.
However, half a year later, the Danish Army, the Danish Parliament, and the city council of the garrison “home” town, Slagelse, did not fail to continue the invented tradition of having a homecoming parade. The official programme promised the usual: welcome, parade, speeches, march, more speeches, snack, farewell and departure.
Everything was not quite as usual, though, and the minor aberrations in the ritual – intended or not - reflect a changing reality. Even considering the reduced number of troops, the audience of family and friends was small, and it only showed a moderate emotional engagement in the event. While the garrison had ordered recruits to stand parade and applaud the veterans along the march route, and while the garrison’s pride, the Horse Squadron, was there to honour them too, the now common flag command by ex-servicemen and veterans from past missions was missing along with the confetti cannon sprouting thousands of small Dannebrog paper flags over soldiers and spectators. The town showed its appreciation with a flag adorned high street, and while some people peeped out from shop windows, starred from balconies, or from their cars, which had been put to a halt, few civilians braved the winter cold to take to the streets to welcome the soldiers.
The emerging divergence between a growing tradition and a dwindling mission was manifest in speech, as when speakers proclaimed that even if the soldiers had been absent in the press, they were not forgotten and deserved the same recognition as previous teams deployed to Afghanistan. In this light, it was ironic, when, in a slip of the tongue, a commander addressed ISAF 16 as "Team 13", and the prompt correction from one soldier, "Team 10!", suggested how easily social recognition can transform into the opposite.