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An army helicopter of model NH90, swept over the heads of the king and the defense minister of Sweden – the Finnish president and the defense minister and the commander of the defense forces.
It was showtime on Wednesday afternoon; an evacuation exercise of an injured soldier from the European Union’s military crisis management unit for the pleasure of the honorary guests at the Santahamina military base, an island, located in eastern Helsinki.
The wind was chilly, it drizzled and the sand was turning to mud at the training ground carrying a codename, Sahara.
But the regiment performed their exercise with flair: a flare created a red smokescreen, the helicopter was landed, a group of soldiers jumped out with their machine guns pointing at various directions, and an injured soldier was rushed off the field to the helicopter on a yellow stretcher and the NH90—designed to operate in harsh military environments—flew like a snooty eagle to the horizon in the early Finnish spring.
King Carl XVI Gustaf seemed pleased and he nodded his head, which was covered with a stylish grey fedora with a teardrop-shaped crown.
This was the most action-packed moment of the king’s visit in Finland but I was eager to find out what the royal couple had found to be the most interesting after they arrived in Helsinki on Tuesday.
“It’s important to renew old contacts and to create new ones,” King Gustaf said to me a few hours before in Hanasaari, at the Swedish-Finnish Culture Centre, where the king and queen visited a seminar of young forces at different youth organizations.
“We have discussed a lot of the future with the young generation. The old contacts are there but we try to create new ones. That is not so obvious. Both sides have to work make an effort for it.”
Queen Silvia looked at me and with her soft voice, she said, she had very much enjoyed meeting the youth earlier today at the Me & MyCity Espoo, a miniature city, where students work in a profession and function as consumers and citizens as part of society in a learning environment, a Finnish innovation from 2009.
“It was fantastic! It would be fun to have it in Sweden as well,” Queen Silvia said.
The Santahamina tour was one part of strengthening the Finnish-Swedish military cooperation, which has been increased recently as the defense ministers of the neighboring countries have frequented their visits, and the official discussions were conducted with President Niinistö and King Gustaf on Tuesday.
The honorary guests at Santahamina were introduced to various weapons used by the Finnish military, and they attended a seminar focusing on Finnish-Swedish military cooperation, where the Finnish defense minister, Carl Haglund, made continual remarks about increasing the defense budget.
“We have had good cooperation in many areas and for many many years. This is a way to advance when we think about the defense cooperation,” King Gustaf said after being introduced to various weapons from bazooka to rifle.
“The cooperation is under evaluation now. We are trying to find well-functioning ways of cooperation. This is just the beginning.”
“And we don’t have a goal,” President Niinistö added.
“Because we advance step by step and we will see how it goes. And everything has gone extremely well, for now.”
“One of our support pillars is the international cooperation, Niinistö continued, “and in that includes the development of defense cooperation with Sweden, the NATO partnership and the EU and NORDECO (The Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology). “This is an important part of our security thinking.”
“The equipment and the soldiers look the same as in Sweden nowadays,” King Gustaf said.
“This makes the cooperation easy. One feels secure and one can teach one another. Education is important,”
Later, it was time for dinner at the House of the Estates, where a luxurious meal was served for the invitational guests. The evening was hosted by the royal couple themselves.