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Growing number of Finnish reservists request civilian service

More reservists have asked to be transferred to civilian service already this year than in all of last year in Finland. The military’s Civilian Service Centre is worried about being able to train and pay the accelerating number of new civilian service reservists on its current budget.

Kadetti ampuu rynnäkkökiväärillä Taipalsaaren ampuma-alueella.
Conscripts fire assault rifles at the Taipalsaari firing range. Image: Yle

Finland’s defence is based on a policy of universal male conscription, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for 165, 255 or 347 days in the military. After they have served their compulsory service, conscripts continue their military service obligation in the reserves, and refresher courses are held to maintain and supplement training. By law, every male Finnish citizen is liable for military service starting from the beginning of the year in which he turns 18 years old until the end of the year in which he turns 60.

Alternative civilian service is a form of national service performed in lieu of conscription for various reasons, such as conscientious objection, inadequate health, or political reasons. Civilian service is usually performed in the service of non-profit governmental bodies or other institutions, for example, in healthcare facilities, retirement homes or pre-schools.

From January to May 2015, 300 men who have completed their compulsory service in the military have requested to be transferred to civilian services as a reservist. This number corresponds to the total amount of conscripts who made this choice in 2014. In 2013, 200 men made a similar decision.

Stretching civilian service resources

Mikko Reijonen, Director of Finland’s Civilian Service Centre says civilian service training needs an injection of additional funds if it wants to be able to take on the influx of new reservists. A five-day training session is usually held for all reservists switching to civil service that includes a daily allowance and a supplemental wage.  

“It’ll be interesting to see how many reservists transfer to civilian service yet this year. We have to consider if and how we can stretch our training resources so that they will suffice,” he says.

The Finnish Defence Forces began a campaign to stay in touch with its soldiers in May 2015, sending letters by post to 900,000 reservists. An extensive reform starting in 2008 affected the task of many reservists and the Defence Forces contacted the reservists to inform them what their individual role would be should Finland enter a conflict.

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