10th Mountain Division back in Colorado
CAMP HALE, Colorado — Hundreds of troops from the 157th Infantry’s first battalion were re-designated into the 10th Mountain Division Sunday in a U.S. Army re-patching ceremony.
Camp Hale in Eagle County was chosen for the ceremony due to the historical significance the former 10th Mountain Division training site has with the U.S. Army. In 1943, the 10th Light Division (Alpine) was established at Camp Hale and ushered in many advancements in mountaineering and alpine combat both at Camp Hale and on the battlefield in the mountains of Italy. The division was comprised of special recruits selected by Charles “Minnie” Dole and the U.S. Ski Patrol, known as “ski troopers.”
Dole’s son, Charles Minot Dole Jr., attended the ceremony Sunday and spoke about what the 10th Mountain Division meant to his father.
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“I know my father is sitting up there,” Dole said with a motion to the cliffs surrounding Camp Hale. “That was his life.”
Troops from the 10th Mountain Division scaled those cliffs during the ceremony, some wearing replicas of the original ski trooper uniforms, recognizable for their bright white gear and heavy rucksack. Now official members of the third maneuver battalion of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), organized under the 10th Mountain Division, many of the 300 to 400 troops of the 550-member battalion who were present on Sunday will learn vertical and high angle movement on rock faces like those at Camp Hale. Other troops will learn skills like inserting themselves into high altitude alpine terrain, long range weapon operation in mountainous terrain and high-altitude marksmanship. Some will even learn to ski.
“As a National Guard Unit, we don’t have the time to train every single day,” said Lt. Col. John W. Hancher with the 157th Infantry. “So we wanted to spread out the knowledge and experience throughout the entire battalion.”
Prior to the 157th Infantry’s re-patching on Sunday, the 10th Mountain Division patch was for active duty personnel only. The troops who were re-designated Sunday are part of a pilot program where the part-time servicemen and servicewomen with the Colorado National Guard’s first battalion of the 157th Infantry are now organized under the 10th Mountain Division. Captain Rich Piltinsrud was among the troops to receive the new designation; he was one of only a few selected to have their patches adhered to their shoulders by an original member of the 10th Mountain Division who trained at Camp Hale in the ‘40s.
“To be able to get that one-on-one contact in the passing of the mountain brotherhood from one generation to the other, that’s really what that represented,” Piltinsrud said.
A lifelong skier and outdoorsman, Piltinsrud spent his first night in a snow cave not far from Camp Hale.
“Camp Hale is a big part of my life,” he said. “I learned to backcountry ski right up Resolution Creek over there.”
SKIING FOR 82 YEARS
Piltinsrud said this year, he will finally get a chance to ski with an original 10th Mountain Soldier when Hugh Evans — who gave Piltinsrud his patch on Sunday — visits nearby Ski Cooper this season. Evans, 92, said Sunday that he has been skiing for “probably 82 years.”
During a speech at the ceremony, Evans asked the other eight World War II veterans in attendance to state their name, rank and serial number.
Longtime Vail local Sandy Treat, who served with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, told Evans to “forget about the serial number” in a humorous moment.
Evans said back in the ‘40s, the 10th Mountain Division was one of the best divisions that existed in the U.S. Army. Following World War II, the division disbanded and has been reincarnated over the years at locations in Kansas, Georgia and New York, where it operates today out of Fort Drum.
With the re-designation of the first battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment (Mountain) — which operates out of the armory in Grand Junction — Evans welcomed the 10th Mountain back to the Centennial State.
“We are delighted to have the 10th back in Colorado, and embrace you all with open arms,” Evans told the troops.