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Military will be watching backcountry during Games

ISU plans include three-tiered security system around each venue and military camp




Griffon choppers, radar stations and fighter jets will form part of the security picture in Sea to Sky during the Olympics, but backcountry users may encounter soldiers on patrol.

The military component of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) laid out its Games-time plans to local governments Monday. Major Dan Thomas of the ISU's public relations department led a PowerPoint presentation to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

Thomas explained that Canadian Forces personnel are in the Sea to Sky region to assist the RCMP, which is leading security operations during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The military's support will consist of four components: air, land, water and public contact.

The land component has already begun - the Canadian Forces have set up headquarters for army personnel in the Cal-Cheak area.

Personnel with the land component will play a big role patrolling backcountry areas to ensure people are aware of where they can travel. The soldiers may be seen in small groups traveling up and down hills with rifles, snowmobiles and Arctic toboggans, which are often used as dog sleds.

Captain Trevor Michelsen of the Land Component Command said soldiers may approach backcountry skiers and say "hello" and inform them when they've entered a security zone.

Land component forces expect to be deployed between mid-January and the end of March 2010. They'll be stationed largely in areas around the Callaghan Valley and the Whistler Athletes' Village.

Michelsen also explained that each Olympic venue site and each military camp will have a three-tiered security system. The highest security will be concentrated in what's called a "Controlled Access Zone" (CAZ), where no one can enter without a pass. The area inside the fence at the Whistler Athletes' Village is a good example of that.

Next is the "Outer Controlled Access Zone" (OCAZ), which also has tight security. Finally, there's the Surveillance Zone, which will consist of the backcountry, and Michelsen said forces will be careful in surveying it.

"Reaction will not be offensive," he said. "(We) will not jump out of bushes and scare people. One or two people will come forward and say 'hey, how are you doing?'

"We're friendly Canadians, you're friendly Canadians, we want to be good neighbours and we want to keep you safe."

Those security zones, however, remain unclear to backcountry users. Thomas spoke to Pique on Tuesday and said all zones will be venue-specific, but that backcountry restrictions around those zones haven't yet been finalized.

He admitted that military camps and headquarters located in backcountry areas will have controlled access zones of their own. In those areas backcountry users will likely be approached by military personnel and informed that they've stepped into a controlled access zone.

ISU is preparing a brief to ensure the public knows where they can go in the backcountry so they don't get interrupted while skiing or snowmobiling. The public may also get more information about backcountry restrictions at any one of three Game Plan meetings.

They'll be held Dec. 8 at the new Pemberton Community Centre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Dec. 9 at the Whistler Conference Centre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and Dec. 10 at Squamish's Brennan Park Recreation Centre from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Michelsen said military personnel will also be stationed near the rock quarry next to the athletes' village and that they'll be engaged in moving RCMP around in vehicles that are "good for mobility and rough terrain and bad weather."

"We are going to have an element of soldiers just kept on standby should we need to put people to additional tasks," he said.

The vehicles include 10- and two-ton trucks, as well as a Bandvagn-206 that will transport people out of security zones should they stray into them.

Better known as a BV-206, the vehicle was originally designed for the Swedish Army and consists of two units running on powered tracks. They're normally used to transport soldiers through difficult terrain and extreme weather and can survive temperatures from -32 degrees Celsius to 46 degrees Celsius.

Col. Bill Veenhof, Commander of the ISU's air component was also at Monday's presentation. He said the Air Force's job will be to airlift RCMP and Canadian Forces personnel and equipment. They'll also be on hand to provide medical evacuations and provide air support for RCMP patrols.

Some air assets will include Griffon helicopters, which are normally involved in search and rescue; Cormorant helicopters, which are also involved in such operations; and CF-18 fighter jets that Veenhof said will fly as high as commercial airliners and will not be any more intrusive.

The Griffon helicopters will be stationed at the Squamish Airport, along with an MPN-25 radar station that will provide airspace detection. There will be another radar station installed at the Pemberton Airport.

Speaking after the meeting, Thomas said approximately a dozen housing camps for the military will be sited close to where soldiers are operating throughout the corridor. It's been previously reported that about 1,600 Canadian Forces personnel would be stationed in the camps but Thomas couldn't confirm the number.