Nanna Navntoft (Danish School of Journalism)
Award of Excellence
Domestic Picture Story
Each year around 450 young men and women roam around the woods in Gribskov, Denmark as part of their military service. Typically, a Danish soldier spends four months in the army. But in The Royal Guard each soldier spends eight months. The first half is called “green service”, which is where everyone acquires basic soldier skills. After that the soldiers are transfered to “blue service”, where their job is to guard the various sites belonging to The Royal Family. Being part of The Royal Guard is deemed attractive by young people keen to pursue a military career. The Royal Guard also attracts those who want to actually go to war, as rumour has it that this is the toughest part of the army and the chance of actually being sent into conflict is greater here than anywhere else.
In order to earn the title of “Royal Guard” each recruit will have to survive four days in the woods - the so-called “Rextur”. To any young man unaccustomed to such a challenge it is a rough introduction to life as an army soldier. Only those who make it through these four days of total exhaustion, hunger, and humiliation are given the highly sought-after emblem - the “Rex badge” which shows the world that they are not recruits anymore, but part of The Royal Guard.
1. company, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd platoon
On a narrow path near a small farm, the recruits have been told to empty their backpacks on the ground and to strip down to their pants in a search for prohibited luxury items such as food, phones, sweets and cigarettes.
»Your stuff doesn’t need to be nice and tidy, just get it out! Come on, you Mowglies, less talk, more work!« First lieutenant Kabel shouts.
In the late afternoon a recruit has passed out. He has only just opened his eyes as the others decide to help him carry his backpack the rest of the way to the emergency area in the woods, where they will set up camp and stay for the night. The main challenge is the mere heft of the backpack.
A recruit wakes up lying on the ground in the forest. The day ahead will be the last of the trip - and the most demanding due to sleep deprivation.
The recruits don’t eat for two and a half days. This is a way of pushing them to the point where it actually hurts. Those in charge believe that this is the point where actual personal growth can take place. At this point they have been told to stand inside their sleepingbags, while the lieutenants check their backpacks.
It is difficult to see the link between the exhausted recruits rolling around on the ground and the straight and spotless guards outside the Queen’s residence Amalienborg Castle. It is, however, the exact same gentlemen who are supposed to be ready to take on this job around a month from now.
After a sleepless night out marching, the recruits are faced with the challenge of a three-kilometre agility course which gets them running and crawling through knee-deep mud with smoke in their lungs and sergeants letting of firecrackers and shooting blanks all around them. This challenge marks the end of the four-day trip and those who succeed will get their ”Rex badge” and may guard the Queen.