Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., presided over a strange ceremony Friday high in the mountains between Vail and Leadville at a former U.S. Army training site called Camp Hale.
The camp, which these days is little more than a wide-open mountain meadow dotted with few old foundations along the side of scenic U.S. Highway 24, was somewhat famously (in ski industry circles at least) the home of the 10th Mountain Division.
Alpine ski troopers trained there during World War II and went on to fight the Nazis in mountainous areas of Italy. Many of them returned to the United States to found the nation’s ski industry in the 1950s and 60s, including Vail founder Pete Seibert.
But Udall wasn’t there to honor the 10th Mountain Division Friday. Instead, he dedicated a plaque recognizing the training of Tibetan freedom fighters there by the Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1950s and early 60s.
Some of the surviving Tibetan guerillas were reportedly on hand, although for the most part the resistance to the Chinese takeover of Tibet was a bit like an Asian Bay of Pigs. Overwhelming force rendered the resistance fairly futile.
For years the CIA covered up the Tibetan mission, but Udall brought it into the full daylight of a clear Colorado sky on Friday. The former congressman for the district has an affinity for mountain climbing and also said he feels a special connection to that part of the world because his mother served in the Peace Corps in Nepal.
One of only two members of Colorado’s congressional delegation to vote against a resolution giving then President George W. Bush permission in invade Iraq in 2003, Udall nonetheless is supportive of other military operation in the high country, including the U.S. Army National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Combat helicopter pilots from all over the world, including the Middle East, are trained there to handle heat and high altitude, which adversely affects performance. But Camp Hale is still in use as well, occasionally the scene of special operations winter warfare training out of Fort Carson, and even psychological operations units out of Denver.