Veterans stump in support of Camp Hale becoming new national monument

Recent veterans say they're following 'in the historical footsteps of those who have gone before them'

The 10th Mountain Division trained for World War II locally at Camp Hale and were the nation’s first mountain warfare unit.
Special to Vail Daily

Anticipating President Joe Biden’s announcement of a new national monument at Camp Hale and the Tenmile Range, the Vet Voice Foundation gathered 10th Mountain Division veterans and local representatives Thursday to discuss the environmental, educational and ceremonial impacts such a designation would have.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the historic World War II training site in August accompanied by Gov. Jared Polis, Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Joe Neguse. During the visit, Vilsack pledged to recommend to Biden that he use his authority granted by the Antiquities act of 1906 to create the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument.

During a press call on Thursday, Vet Voice Foundation CEO Janessa Goldbeck said the organization joins Colorado representatives in urging the president to ensure Camp Hale’s permanent protection. 

“This action would continue a longstanding tradition of bipartisan support for protecting our nation’s most special places, historic landmarks and objects of historic and scientific interest,” Goldbeck said. 

As a former training site for the U.S. Army, Camp Hale fostered what was originally activated as the Alpine segment of the Army’s 10th Light Division before being redesignated the 10th Mountain Division in 1944. The officers who trained for harsh temperatures and conditions at Camp Hale were responsible for key defeats of German forces in Italy.

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The 10th Mountain Division is now located at Fort Drum, New York, and, since 2001, has been the most-deployed division in the U.S. Army. Despite their geographical separation from Camp Hale and the Continental Divide, recent veterans of the 10th Mountain Division spoke on the connections they have to the land and to their predecessors who trained there.

Retired Maj. Gen. Galen Jackman served for three years with the 10th Mountain Division as chief of staff and assistant division commander. Having communicated with descendants of the World War II 10th Mountain Division and having served with the 10th Mountain Division himself, Jackman explained how crucial Camp Hale is to American history and veteran legacy.

“All the soldiers in our army today are following in the historical footsteps of those who have gone before them,” Jackman said. “The 10th Mountain soldiers are no exception. The heritage, legacy, spirit and ethos of today’s 10th Mountain Division springs from its beginnings at Camp Hale.”

Along with recognizing its historical impact, 10th Mountain Division veteran Mike Greenwood directly addressed President Biden in the press call Thursday. He shared a personal account of Camp Hale’s importance. Having served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Greenwood said the wilderness at Camp Hale is a sanctuary from the impacts of war. He explained that Camp Hale and the Continental Divide is not only a historical site of a legendary division’s training ground, but the land is also a place for veterans like himself to recreate, reflect and heal. 

“(Camp Hale) is not just a place to look at and admire,” Greenwood said. “It’s a place to go and heal. So, I urge you, President Biden, to give Camp Hale the distinction that it deserves.”

Aside from the connection 10th Mountain Division veterans have to the history and healing nature of Camp Hale, skiers and locals may also find connections to the history of the proposed national monument. The nation’s modern ski industry finds its roots at Camp Hale. Many 10th Mountain veterans returned from World War II to found the iconic ski resorts — Vail among them — that are at the forefront of the American outdoor recreation economy, which thrives in Colorado today.

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry is in support of Camp Hale’s projected national monument distinction and explained why she thinks it is important to recognize the foundation that much of Eagle and Summit counties are built upon. 

“Over the past few years, the outdoor recreation industry has blossomed to a point where we need to put some protections in place to steward this part of our heritage,” Chandler-Henry said. “Heritage is part of our history, our environment and it’s our economy. We’re hopeful that this designation of the national monument status by President Biden will lead to those protections and allow us to recognize that heritage, history and love of nature and the outdoors that all of us in Eagle County have.”

Like many locals, Rep. Julie McCluskie who serves Delta, Gunnison, Lake, Pitkin and Summit counties at the state Capitol, said she and her family have fond memories of recreating in this “pristine and important part of Colorado’s beautiful wilderness.” She explained that protections offered with the national monument distinction would assist in preserving populations of endangered wildlife that live in and migrate through the area, such as bighorn sheep, black bears and moose.

“Particularly in the face of climate change, protecting these corridors and these beautiful mountains is very important to our communities,” McCluskie said. “We have been challenged over this last decade to lift up and help others understand how much we love these great outdoors and why it is so important to protect them.”

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