Keeping watch on the backcountry 

Military has all the hardware to protect us, but from what?


Whistler, meet your new neighbours.

They're over 500 military personnel who've taken up residence in a trailer city at the foot of Cal-Cheak quarry. They have their own barber shop, dining hall, gym and movie theatre, all of it in the comfort of units that look like portables at an overcrowded high school.

Get used to them - they're the 1 st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG), a Canadian Army outfit that will be here to the end of the Olympics.

The Brigade gave a tour to Whistler's political officials and media on Jan. 26.

Along for the ride is John Weston, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. The House may not be sitting but Weston is still very much at work, dividing his attention between Army tour guides and his Blackberry.

Also on the tour are Whistler Councillors Chris Quinlan, Ted Milner, Tom Thomson and Eckhard Zeidler. We are accompanied by more Army public affairs people than most of us knew existed.

We're taken in a school bus donated by the federal government down a choppy forest service road that Zeidler says he could fix with the tractor from his Lillooet ranch. We're tossed back and forth on a short ride until we arrive at a camp that's big enough to accommodate 800 personnel.

It looks much like the kind of residence you find for oil workers in Fort McMurray - with a military twist. In between trailers provided by Edmonton-based PTI Group Inc., there are Army trucks similar to those that transport weary soldiers out of battle. There are also sewage tanks to accommodate the needs of the approximately 500 soldiers currently stationed here.

This is the headquarters for the Land Component Command of Operation Podium, code name for the Canadian Forces contribution to defence and security at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The military is here to support an RCMP-led operation by monitoring the backcountry around the athletes' village and Whistler Olympic Park.

These Army people are tough... and they're secretive.

Once at the camp we're led through a break in a fence that's sheltered by a green canopy. To each side of the entrance are posters admonishing soldiers to keep their traps shut. One reminds troops "Silence is security." Another says "Don't talk about troop movements."

Throughout the camp we find the same thing. Posters labeled "OPSEC" (operational security) tell personnel to be careful what they talk about in common conversation. Images of Tyler Durden and the Terminator hammer the point home.

Precisely what they're here to protect us against is a mystery to everyone. Lt. Col. Malcolm Bruce, Deputy Commander of 1CMBG, gives us a presentation outlining the Canadian Forces' role in the Sea to Sky corridor. A friendly slideshow about the Army's operations is followed by a question from John Weston: what threats is the Army concerned about?


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