US Air Base in Greenland Gets New, Inuit Name

Pituffik Space Base, Greenland renaming ceremony.
From left to right, Col. Brian Capps, 821st Space Base Group commander, Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force Gen. Chance Saltzman, Greenlandic Minister Affairs, Business and Trade Vivian Motzfeldt, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark Alan Leventhal and Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Clark, 821st Space Group command chief, during the base renaming ceremony, at Pituffik Space Base, Greenland, April 6, 2023. (U.S. Space Force photo by Senior Airman Kaitlin Castillo)

Thule Air Base in Greenland, the Pentagon's northernmost military installation, has been renamed to better reflect the culture of the region, as well as its affiliation with the Space Force.

During an April 6 ceremony in Greenland, officials unveiled a new sign renaming Thule as Pituffik Space Base. Pituffik is the traditional Greenlandic name for the former settlement where the base was built.

"This renaming represents our wish to celebrate and acknowledge the rich cultural heritage of Greenland and its people and how important they are to the sustainment of this installation against the harsh environment north of the Arctic Circle," Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said during the ceremony.

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In the early 1900s, explorers named a trading post in the area Thule, a reference to Ultima Thule -- the ancient Roman and Greek term for the northernmost location in existence.

The base's renaming comes after a history of major disturbances connected to the base.

Pituffik is the name of the Greenland settlement, located approximately 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the northwestern coast, where native inhabitants lived. They were forced to relocate to another area when the air base was being built on their ground in 1951.

The base's new name also shows that the Space Force will likely mirror the Air Force tradition of calling overseas locations "air bases" instead of "Air Force bases," as it does domestic installations.

In 1968, a B-52 Stratofortress carrying four thermonuclear bombs crashed, and the detonation of the payload widely contaminated large areas of sea ice.

Of the some 56,000 people who call Greenland home, approximately 88% identify as Greenlandic Inuit or Kalaallit, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Renaming the base appears to be an effort to restore goodwill with the community.

"May this base renaming serve as an opportunity for us here at Pituffik Space Base to reaffirm our commitment to that friendship and serve as a reminder of our special bond for many years to come," Col. Brian Capps, Pituffik Space Base and 821st Space Base Group commander, said during the ceremony.

In 2020, Thule Air Base, as it was known then, was placed under the command of the newly created Space Force. It supports missile warning and defense, as well as space surveillance missions with the 12th Space Warning Squadron and the 23rd Space Operations Squadron.

Last December, late night talk show host and comedian Stephen Colbert visited the installation for a series called "Red, White & Greenland." He spoke with Space Force leaders, took questions from Guardians and even sang karaoke alongside country artist Sturgill Simpson at a bar near the base.

The pivot to the new Pituffik moniker comes amid a Pentagon-wide effort to rename bases, ships and buildings that honor the Confederacy. The Army has started renaming bases that for decades have honored Confederate rebels. It most recently renamed Virginia's Fort Pickett to Fort Barfoot, and Alabama's Fort Rucker to Fort Novosel.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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