Monday, July 29, 2013

The mystique of Camp Hale

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The mystique of Camp Hale

By Gil Rivas
The Daily Magi
September 24, 2049


Camp Hale, between Red Cliff and Leadville in the Eagle River valley in Colorado, was a U.S. Army training facility constructed in 1942 for what became the 10th Mountain Division. It was named for General Irving Hale. Soldiers were trained in mountain climbing, Alpine and Nordic skiing, cold-weather survival as well as various weapons and ordnance. When it was in full operation, approximately 15,000 soldiers were housed there.

The creation of an elite ski corps was a national effort, with assistance from the National Association of Ski Patrol, local ski clubs, and Hollywood. Enough men were recruited to create three army regiments, which were deployed after training. Camp Hale was decommissioned in November 1945.

From 1959 to 1965, Tibetan guerrillas were secretly trained at Camp Hale by the CIA. The site was chosen because of the similarities of the terrain with the Himalayan Plateau. The Tibetans nicknamed the camp "Dhumra", meaning "The Garden". The CIA circulated a story in the local press that Camp Hale was to be the site of atomic tests and would be a high security zone. Until the camp was closed in 1964, the entire area was cordoned off and its perimeter patrolled by military police. In all, around 259 Tibetans were trained at Camp Hale. After Camp Hale was dismantled in 1964, no Tibetans remained in Colorado. From 1958 to 1960, Anthony Poshepny trained various special missions teams, including Tibetan Khambas and Hui Muslims, for operations in China against the communist government.

In 1965, Camp Hale was dismantled and the land was deeded to the U.S. Forest Service. Since 1974, the area has become a youth development training center. An Eagle County non-profit organization, SOS Outreach, has used the site to expose disadvantaged youth to many of the same outdoor challenges experienced by the 10th Mountain Division. In 1962, Pete Seibert, who was among the soldiers who trained at Camp Hale and then returned to the area after the war, founded the Vail Ski Resort nearby.

In 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a cleanup effort to remove some of the unexploded ordnance at the site in conjunction with several other government agencies. This effort is still ongoing. Most of the remnants of Camp Hale are located in the White River National Forest. There are camping grounds where overnight camping is permitted on this former army base. Several informational plaques are located throughout the area. These plaques contain historical information about camp construction, the 99th Infantry Battalion (aka "The Viking Battalion"), ski training, rock climbing/alpine training, the motor pool area, CIA training, and camp entertainment.

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