Norwegian Army’s New Chief Is A Penguin (Seriously)



Penguin cover

TV and Hollywood would have us believe that there are such things as “maverick soldiers.” Pretty much every movie that features any branch of the military features a loose-cannon character, from Charlie Sheen’s maverick character in “Navy SEALs” to Tom Cruise’s maverick character in “Top Gun”.

In reality, of course, a huge part of military discipline is to make sure that soldiers behave rigidly and follow strict rules and codes. All military training is designed to weed out people who don’t play by the rules.

Every so often, however, there are anomalies. Some soldiers really do stand out. One of the more notable examples is Colonel in Chief Nils Olav from the Norwegian Royal Guard.

He’s not so much “not your normal soldier” as he is “literally a penguin”. As in: really. A serious, honest-to-god penguin.


The story of Nils’ military career has at least some explanation. On a visit to Edinburgh Zoo, Norwegian soldiers were quite taken with the penguins and asked to adopt one as a mascot. The penguin was named Nils (after the soldier who came up with the idea) and Olav (after the then-king of Norway)

Over time, it became a habit to promote the penguin every time the Norwegian Royal Guard visited the Edinburgh military tattoo. The original Nils Olav made it as far as sergeant over his lifetime, and was later replaced with the current Nils Olav II.

It remains unclear as to whether there is a direct genetic link between the two, as penguin identities are difficult at best. Presumably, the selection process included the phrase “He’s black and white like the old one, they must be related!”

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The same “black and white things should be soldiers” logic was later used to hire a zebra into Norway’s top mine-sweeper squad, with less successful results.

Stripes Larsson

On the one hand, Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils the penguin (he was recently knighted) is a cute publicity stunt that does a lot of good for both Edinburgh Zoo and, one imagines, Nils’ self-esteem. There is, however, a dangerous logical flaw at work.

Military thinking is notoriously dogmatic. Once something is established as a tradition, it becomes sacrosanct, and this could be dangerous when it comes to penguins.

In theory, if the Norwegians visit Edinburgh enough, this penguin will keep getting promoted until he’s in a position of some responsibility. Logically, given enough time, the Norwegian army may end up being commanded by a small, flightless bird.

The effects would be immediate and tactically baffling. All orders would basically boil down to “bring me more fish,” and any sort of training would be replaced with incessant orders to go swimming, possibly with some pecking practice involved in case of combat.

This would lead to a new breed of soldier; one with excellent lung capacity and an almost permanent concussion.

Desert warfare would become difficult, as would mountain warfare and basically any mission that takes place in a terrain that can’t be conquered through swimming or waddling.

On the plus side, high-level military communications would be impossible to intercept, as a correctly decoded message would probably read as some variation of “Mwak, mwap-mwak, mwap mwap mwak.”

Nonetheless, dissension in the ranks would be unavoidable. It would be hugely frustrating for career soldiers to find themselves out-ranked by someone who couldn’t negotiate stairs and had flippers for hands.

It would probably be the way most American soldiers felt when George Bush was commander-in-chief.

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