"Suck my cock," the soldier sneered.
Fair to say, this was not a situation Caroline Williams expected to encounter when she decided to climb Manitou Springs' Incline trail early on May 26. Williams, actually, was hoping for some exercise and a little solitude on the day before she welcomed her Marine reservist husband back from Afghanistan.
Instead, she found herself weaving between dozens of Fort Carson soldiers doing mandatory physical training — something soldiers apparently do regularly without permission from the property owner.
When she finally sprinted to the top, Williams says, she was greeted by cigarette smoke. And when she complained about the smoke, a soldier told her to "fuck off" and informed her that, if he wanted to, he could "smoke a fucking doobie up here."
Then the soldier threatened to fight her.
Williams was outraged. She wrote a letter to Fort Carson Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins and other high-ranking officers. In it, she notes that her husband is in the military, her dad is a retired Army colonel, and many of her family members also chose to serve.
"I would hope none of them ever acted like any of the soldiers who were atop the incline this morning," she wrote. "It's disrespectful, shameful and makes me wonder about the command of these soldiers."
When told about the incident, Lt. Col. Steve Wollman wrote in an e-mail to the Independent, "Soldiers are expected to obey the law and comport themselves in a professional manner at all times. If a Soldier violates the law and/or does not represent the Army in a positive manner, he or she may be subjected to punishment under Army regulations or the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
Of course, aside from the occasional aggressive potty-mouth, there's another problem with soldiers training on the Incline: It's illegal. While parts of the trail belong to Colorado Springs Utilities and the U.S. Forest Service, the middle section is the private property of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. And Cog general manager Spencer Wren says the Army does not have permission to use the trail. No one does.
"We'd like to ask the people who are apparently defending our liberties to please abide by our laws," Wren says. "They go right past the sign that says, 'No trespassing.'"
In fact, Wren sent his own letter to Perkins about a month ago — demanding that the training hikes stop. As Wollman wrote in a June 1 e-mail to the Independent, "An order has been issued to Fort Carson Soldiers directing them not to conduct on or off duty physical training on the incline."
Obviously, as of last week, that hadn't happened.
In fairness, the Carson troops are hardly the only ones trespassing on the Incline, one of the area's most popular hiking trails. Williams was up there illegally, too. However, many view individuals choosing to trespass as different from Army officers apparently mandating troops to do so. Also, large groups of hikers cause trail damage.
According to runner Roger Austin, and several other regular morning Incline hikers, the Army has trained groups of 30 to 60 soldiers on the trail regularly on weekday mornings. The soldiers, each hiker notes, have been polite. And they should be, Austin says.
"If you're going out here in a formal group, you'd better be on your best behavior," he remarked. "Otherwise, what does that say about the Army?"