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Military setting up camp at Cal-Cheak

Olympic security plans will see soldiers housed in six camps in corridor


Sea to Sky's newest residents could include burly men in camo gear as the Department of National Defence sets up a military camp in the Callaghan-Cheakamus area.

The department is deploying over 1,000 personnel for the 2010 Olympics as a supplementary force for the RCMP, which is overseeing security operations during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Col. Graham Thornton, Deputy Chief of Staff, Support, with National Defence's Joint Task Force Game Headquarters said in an interview Friday that the department is setting up temporary, tented winter camps in the corridor through an agreement with B.C.'s Ministry of Forests and Range.

One will be located in the Cal-Cheak area, on a plot of land over which Canadian Snowmobile Adventures holds a tenure.

"(The Ministry of Forests and Range) have six temporary mobile camp facilities but they use them all summer long for firefighting in the backwoods," Thornton said. "We've done a deal with them, because we frequently provide soldiers to them for firefighting.

"We have an agreement to provide six of those camps at 200 men each, winterized and suitable for occupation at higher elevations through January, February to March."

Thornton went on to say the Cal-Cheak camp is currently in site preparation mode, razing some trees to level the land and make room for camps that could be as big as two or three football fields.

"We're actually doing some leveling up there so the camp can be installed on level ground," he said. "We're working with (Canadian Snowmobile Adventures) collaboratively to have the site preparation done right now. It will certainly be ready for occupation by early January.

"There'll have to be very selective tree-cutting and leveling of the land, just earth-moving stuff," Thornton said, adding that Canadian Snowmobile Adventures has some longer-term development plans for the site.

Each of the camps will be equipped with sanitation, showers, as well as television and Internet access, all the things that soldiers will need to call the camps home. Thornton wouldn't comment when asked whether weapons would be stored at the camps.

"I wouldn't wish to comment on that at all," he said.

Whistlerites can also expect to see National Defence personnel near the Whistler Athletes' Village as they maintain security for the competitors and the residences. The area, which will become the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood following the Games, is viewed as a place that needs "pretty robust" protection, Thornton said.

They will also be seen in the area of the Squamish Airport. Thornton said the Department is in discussions with Squamish Mayor Greg Gardner to use the airport for military purposes. Squamish is a very convenient location for air operations because it's about halfway between Whistler and Greater Vancouver.

Elsewhere in the corridor, the Canadian Forces will be using a Ministry of Forests firebase at the Pemberton Airport as a kind of back up for air traffic control and airfield diversion.

"We do that in the winter with the climatic conditions," Thornton said. "We need some air traffic control radar but it's not intended for deliberate usage."

Beyond housing, the 2010 Integrated Security Unit, a coalition of law enforcement agencies including the RCMP, the Vancouver Police and National Defence, is gearing up for its next military exercises, the last before it finalizes operations. Exercise Gold will take place in November.

As well, ISU spokesman Major Dan Thomas said Exercise Pegasus Guardian Three will take place from Oct. 19 to 23 and Sea to Sky residents can expect to see Griffin helicopters in the air as part of that operations.

Thomas said the Griffin helicopters will be stealthier than the ones heard in the sky over Whistler last February, which were part of Exercise Silver.

He added that Sea to Sky residents can expect to see some naval vessels in Howe Sound over the Pegasus operation, as well as Orca-class training vessels that can perform operational duties in in-shore waters.

Thomas said people may see a Navy frigate crossing Howe Sound, a vessel required for training and operational purposes.