Playing war

Crawl of duty

A few times a month, Lars Deijker and Albert van Dijk trade in their books for a soldier’s uniform. The two works as reservists in the Dutch Army.
By Koen Marée / Photography and videos by Robbert Andringa / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Lars Deijkers and Albert van Dijk are reservists in the Defence department. That means that, in addition to their studies and jobs, they serve the military a few times a month.

A reservist’s main job is to guard and protect. They can be deployed during disasters, large events, or official occasions.

Anyone between the ages of 17 and a half and 55 can sign up to be a reservist. Deijkers and Van Dijk’s colleagues are not just fellow students, but carpenters, doctors, and independent entrepreneurs.

Recently, Van Dijk joined a large military exercise in Poland. Reservists can voluntarily sign up for this; they cannot be posted to a war zone without warning.

An afternoon of alternative ‘shopping’? If you sign up for and are hired by the National Reservists, you have to go to Soesterberg to try on and pick up quite a bit of clothing.

Reading time: 7 minutes (1,361 words)

June 9, 2016. A Swiss fighter jet crashes near the Leeuwarden air base during the Air Force Days. Soon after, history student Albert van Dijk is contacted by his lieutenant: is he available to patrol the surrounding area? Not long thereafter, he is guarding the area around the accident, wearing his uniform.

Just like his friend Lars Deijkers (25), 27-year-old Van Dijk started the history premaster in February. In addition to their studies, the pair work as reservists at the Defence department. ‘There are two kinds of soldiers’, Deijkers says. ’Professional soldiers and reservists. We act as a supplement to the professionals. Our job is to guard and protect, while professionals often serve a combat function as well. We’re mobilised during disasters, for example, but also during official occasions, such as Prinsjesdag.’

In 2010, after Deijkers graduated from high school, he applied for an infantry officer’s position. But due to cutbacks at the Defence department, his job ceased to exist, even though he had already gone through quite a lot of training for it. Deijkers decided to take a gap year and began following teacher training courses at NHL University of Applied Sciences in Leeuwarden. ‘But I was missing the physical challenge there. So I signed up for a informational evening organised by the Defence department.’

Playing war

The same thing happens to Van Dijk at almost the same time as Deijkers. He misses out on becoming a petty officer in the Navy due to cutbacks. His boyhood dream is shattered. ‘I’m drawn to the uniform. I’m proud of it as well. As a kid I used to play war a lot, although that’s different, of course.’ Through van Deijkers, who he meets at NHL, he ends up with the reservists in 2015: ‘I’m sure I would’ve regretted not doing this.’

After the information evening, both men go through a sign-up procedure. ‘You apply for a job with the reservists, so there’s a possibility you might have to wait. Although there are currently spots available’, says Deijkers. They undergo physical and psychological evaluations in Amsterdam, and their backgrounds are thoroughly checked.

Then, the pair is called to the Soesterberg Airbase. They get to spend an afternoon ‘shopping’ in a large warehouse. They receive a complete outfit, including a suit to be worn during ceremonies, a soldier’s kit, and two pairs of boots. ‘They’re on loan, though’, Deijkers adds. ‘We have to give them back when we leave the Defence department.’


The Frisian Van Dijk is placed with the 10th NatRes battalion and Deijkers, who is from Noord-Holland, is placed in the 20th. This is because of the area they currently live in. The 10th is made up of reservists from the north of the Netherlands, the 20th from soldiers from the middle of the country, and the 30th from southerners.

For two weeks, they participate in a substantial drill during the General Military Training. ‘They teach you the basic soldier moves, like how to greet people and how to march. Your uniform needs to be in perfect order at all times. They really keep going on about that’, Van Dijk says. ‘It is a bit of switch to make. During my teacher training, I’m the person in charge, and there, I was a student again.’ Deijkers adds: ‘We were basically blank slates. But they explained everything to us.

‘Thinking back on that, it was a really great time’, Van Dijk beams. ‘I wouldn’t compare it to the initiation period at a student association, though.’ Deijkers: ‘But each unit does have its own traditions. We all do something differently in our civilian lives, which is nice. So it’s possible that someone is better educated or has a higher social status. But in the Defence department, rank is the only thing that matters. All soldiers are equal.’


On average, being a reservist takes up three to four days every month for Deijkers and Van Dijk. The latter compares it to being part of a sports association: ‘It takes up about as much time. While professional soldiers have an actual employment contract, we’re more like freelancers with a zero-hour appointment. Our civilian job and studies come first. If they ask if you’re available and you aren’t, that’s fine.’

‘But you can spend as much time with them as you want’, Deijkers adds. Van Dijk: ‘I recently joined a large military exercise in Poland. While the professionals were training, we reservists guarded and protected the grounds. Collaborating with the professionals always goes well. They’ll ask what we do in our daily lives and that’ll often lead to a conversation.’ Deijkers: ‘Although we do trade jokes back and forth, of course.’


Deijkers joined a military exercise abroad once as well. ‘I was in Germany two years ago. We guarded and protected the area, but sometimes we were used as a fake enemy. We function as some kind of separatists, or whatever you call it. Reservists can get really fanatical, because they really like it.’

Terrorist threat

People cannot just join these kinds of activities. For official occasions, people have to be useful. ‘That means we have to be in at least basically good shape’, Deijkers says. ‘We have to be able to run 2,400 metres in twelve minutes, do 20 push-ups in two minutes and 30 sit-ups in the same amount of time.’

‘Twice a month we go to the barracks on Monday evening. Roll call is at 7:30 a.m., when we all have to be lined up. Then there are classes, about first aid for example, or we practice patrolling or get gun training. It’s all very serious. After all, if we don’t take the exercises seriously, why would we in real life?’

‘Should the borders ever be under attack, we will immediately be deployed’, Van Dijk says. ‘But the same goes for every man between 17 and 45. The threat of terrorism is on people’s minds, though. There are currently training sessions lasting a few days that are all about fighting terrorists. But even then, our job is to guard and protect. Reservists are only deployed abroad if they themselves sign up after a call has gone out.’

‘I have no trouble combining this with my studies. I love the fact that I’m able to do this and help people’, Deijjkers says. Van Dijk nods: ‘I really enjoy doing it. It’s taught me a lot. And this way my dream to join the world of Defence came true after all.’

Military discipline

Deijkers and Van Dijk did not have to be taught any military discipline. ‘That’s an attitude we had beforehand. Everything depends on a person’s will.’ Van Dijk has noticed he looks further ahead now. ‘In the military, things should never be done at the last moment. I always know where everything is even before we need it. I subconsciously use it in my teaching job as well. The first thing I do when I walk into the classroom is straighten all the desks.’

‘We have a lot of sayings in the Defence department. One of them goes as follows: “Hurry when you’ve got the time, because then you’ll have the time when you’re in a hurry.”‘ Van Dijk has another example: ‘Soldiers have to get up at 6 in the morning and make their beds. I do that at home as well. But I’m not sure if that is something I got from the military.’


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