Conscripts into the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) can now serve together with their friends in the same unit, thanks to an initiative rolled out last year.
The Ministry of Defense says the concept has proved to be a success, with twice as many friendship cliques making use of the opportunity this year.
In addition to the morale-building aspect of the scheme, it can potentially also make the conscription process more efficient.
Conscription in Estonia is mandatory for 11-month terms, though exemptions include those going into tertiary education. Hitherto there had been two categories of conscription term, depending on the specialty, at 11 months or eight months, but the government announced earlier this year it was harmonizing at 11 months.
Chief of Public Affairs section at the Ministry of Defense's Department of Strategic Communication Maj. Taavi Karotamm told ERR News that: "A few years ago, those that were drafted to conscription came up with the idea that it would be excellent to enter service alongside their peers (friends, school mates etc.). Their idea was analyzed, and seen as viable for support. Nowadays there are many groups of draftees who, after high school, express an interest in starting their conscription together."
This means that the friends, acquaintances etc. go through their basic training together, though it is not guaranteed that this will remain after specialties are assigned, Maj. Karotamm added.
Since last year, Estonian conscripts can serve together as a group of friends. This concept has proven to be a success, with twice as many cliques making use of this opportunity in 2023. pic.twitter.com/j4VetoOna4— MoD Estonia (@MoD_Estonia) June 12, 2023
In order to sign-up in this way, draftees can submit a request to the Defense Resource Board (Kaitseressurssideamet), notifying the board that they want to start conscription together as a group. If this proves possible, the board then assigns the group to start their service in the same unit.
Maj. Karotamm added that a minimum of five conscripts is ideal, though groups much beyond around 30 in number might prove too unwieldy to keep within the same unit during training.
Once terms of conscription are completed, the personnel remain on reservist lists, and are liable for annual service, such as via the snap exercise Okas. EDF reservists are a separate pool of personnel from the regionally-recruited volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), though the changed security situation has been followed by a certain convergence of both forces, not least through territorial defense units, a light infantry capability which would see reservists report to their local Defense League District (Malev) when needed. The concept has been informed by developments during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Editor: Andrew Whyte