Sen. Michael Bennet celebrates Triple Deuce Day at Camp Hale

John LaConte
Vail Daily
Veterans pose with Colorado US Senator Michael Bennet as they walk, ski and snowshoe around Camp Hale Saturday. Some of the vets went to Vail the day before to enjoy and learn more about what made Vail what it is today.
Chris Dillmann |

CAMP HALE — Mike Greenwood and his friends from the 10th Mountain Division have a special reason to celebrate Triple Deuce Day — Feb. 22.

From 2003 to 2007, Greenwood and his friends served in the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, known as the Triple Deuce.

This year on Feb. 22, Greenwood and seven friends decided to visit Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division got its start and — knowing he was on recess — they invited Sen. Michael Bennet, who has been working to preserve Camp Hale as the nation’s first National Historic Landscape through a bill called the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act.

The group brought snowshoes, crampons and even a few splitboards bearing the 10th Mountain Division insignia for their tour of the historic training ground which prepared ski troopers for Alpine warfare during World War II.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate anchor for the CORE Act than Camp Hale,” Bennet said on Saturday. “It captures exactly what Colorado is. These guys came here, they trained here, they went and fought overseas, successfully, and then they came back and started our outdoor rec industry, started Vail.”

Where healing happens

While Greenwood and company trained at Fort Drum in New York, also along on Saturday’s trip was Nancy Kramer, whose father trained at Camp Hale in the 1940s. She is now the president of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, and calls Camp Hale a healing place.

“This is where more healing needs to happen,” Kramer told the group on Saturday. “For vets, as well as our general public, frankly. We’ve got some public health crises coming down the pike; we’ve got to get people outdoors more.”

Greenwood said the idea to get everyone together started with men like William Kramer, Nancy’s father, in mind.

“It initially started as, let’s go out to Camp Hale, I want to show you the land, I want to show you what her father trained on … let’s go have fun,” Greenwood said. “We decided to contact (Sen. Bennet) and see if he wants to hang out with us and meet the guys who care about this land, and meet organizations who help veterans heal, or come home, or find nature.”

Greenwood is now working with Huts for Vets, a wilderness therapy program for war veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or brain trauma.

Col. Dick Merrit, a Vietnam war veteran and board member at Huts for Vets, said he is inspired by former Vail Mountain manager and 10th Mountain Division WWII veteran William “Sarge” Brown in the work he does. Brown also served in the Korean War before helping Vail become what it is today.

“He’s my hero,” Merrit said.

While Merrit was inspired by Sarge Brown, Bennet says it’s people like Merrit who have inspired him in working to see the CORE Act passed.

“(Merrit) said to me … there’s a whole new generation of vets who are getting out into the wilderness, getting out into public lands as a way of reacclimating to civilian life,” Bennet said. “Nobody is doing more for them than veterans who preceded them, and they know how important public land is.”

Vets fight to protect public lands

Bennet said he thinks the CORE Act has a chance of getting passed this year.

With the help of Congressman Joe Neguse, who represents Vail and part of Eagle County in the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill passed the House on Oct. 31.

In passing by a vote of 227-182, the CORE Act found bipartisan support in the House, and Bennet is hopeful that it also will see support across the aisle in the Senate.

“There are Republicans in this state who support the CORE Act,” said Bennet, who is a Democrat. “They know that — it’s 400,000 acres total, 70,000 of which is wilderness — all of that is protecting our watersheds. People want to protect our watersheds.”

The Camp Hale portion, which represents 28,728 acres, “doesn’t hurt, obviously, because people, I think, want to preserve the legacy of Camp Hale,” Bennet added, “but in addition to that, it’s a reminder of what an important part of our culture and our history our public lands are. And the vets that come from all over Colorado and all over the country to support this work are truly an inspiration.”

Merrit said he’s ready for a fight, if that’s what it takes to get the bill passed.

“We all fought in foreign countries for protecting our country, and now we’re coming back here and we’re fighting to protect the land,” Merrit said. “So we can heal in the wilderness and for generations to come.”