THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — The son of a Kekaha couple has a good idea what Neil Armstrong felt when walking on the moon.
This rocky, treeless, deserted, frozen landscape 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle is his home for a year.
Snow-blinding winds howling in excess of 50 mph, temperatures plunging below zero, and full days without sunshine are commonplace, and make this place unlike nearly anywhere on Earth.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Moreno Jr., son of Thomas and Lisa Moreno, is the custodian of postal effects at this polar American air base.
He and an approximate base population of 600, comprised of Danish, Canadian, Greenlandic and American people, are thriving in the winter darkness at a place that is reached only by air or dogsled.
Together, those living here are supporting Air Force space activities, such as satellite communication and missile detection.
“I work at the military post office here, in charge of making sure our window clerks had sufficient funds on hand, stamps, and money orders to do business with customers,” explained Moreno, a 1979 graduate of Waimea High School.
The base is the Department of Defense’s northern-most base.
Built in the 1950s during the nuclear arms race, this location was strategically selected at the top of the world because it is halfway between Moscow and Washington, D.C. With Cold War threats now diminished, the base has evolved and now specializes in Air Force space superiority missions.
Living at one of the most remote locations in the world can be challenging.
“The nearest civilization to Thule is a plane trip away, so we use the recreation services here at Thule to occupy our time,” said Moreno. “There’s a 24-hour-a-day gym, a bowling alley, community center, and arts and crafts center. During the summertime, it’s the opposite with 24 hours a day of daylight. There’s a lot more sightseeing to take advantage of and very few people can say they’ve experienced hiking on the polar ice caps.”
Living at a base near the North Pole where Arctic foxes, seals or even an occasional polar bear can be seen makes those who live here feel far from home.
“I really miss my family. Serving in the military and being away from home for nine years has caused me to miss out on a lot of my siblings’ graduations, birthdays and weddings,” Moreno said.
Soon the Arctic winter darkness will turn to light, and 24 hours of sunshine will fill the summer sky.
Moreno will complete his year here, and one day will recall his time spent on a land that looks like the surface of the moon.