Lord Coe thanks armed forces for helping to provide security at the Olympic Games


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The Independent Online

The armed forces and their involvement in London 2012 have been one of the “defining features” of the Olympics, Lord Coe said today.

The chairman of Locog visited Hainault temporary camp in Essex along with Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir David Richards to give a "heartfelt thank you" to troops who are helping provide security at the Games.

The temporary camp, built by G4S on a site decided by Locog, houses around 3,500 troops drafted in to help provide security at the Games. It is also the base for around 300 G4S staff.

Lord Coe visited the site this morning, meeting troops from all three services who have been carrying out different roles at the Olympic Park and ExCeL Centre.

"The reason I'm here is really out of gratitude," he said, "to thank those guys for stepping in, admittedly quite late in the day and also to thank their families who I know have possibly had some of their summer plans disrupted.

"I really genuinely think that when we look back at these Games one of the defining features will be the involvement and the commitment of our armed services.

"They've discharged their duties with professionalism, with humour, and with grace, and that has really gone noticed in pretty much every corner of this project."

Some military personnel have complained that their involvement in the Olympics is a thankless task after they were drafted in at short notice in reaction to the G4S scandal.

Some said they had little access to watch events and complained about poor living conditions, especially at Tobacco Dock in east London.

Today Lord Coe and the general toured Hainault's temporary camp, visiting its catering facilities, gym and welfare tent, meeting troops along the way.

The Locog chairman said: "I also wanted to make the point that I was not only grateful, I'm also respectful of the fact that some of them had to have their plans changed. Some thought they would be on leave and that will have affected their families, so for me it was a heartfelt thank you for doing this."

He said troops were getting tickets to get into sporting events, adding: "I spoke to Gen Richards, we both spoke some weeks ago about making sure where possible we would give those opportunities, so a lot have gone in to see sport. Some I gave the opportunity to go and see our dress rehearsal for the great opening ceremony."

He said where possible they wanted to recognise the commitment that had been made and provide some members of the military with "some of the biggest moments they will remember".

Gen Richards admitted there had been "issues" at some locations where troops are housed.

But he said: "I think to the average civilian you might be quite surprised because it's pretty austere, but actually to most of our personnel, this is good compared with Iraq or Afghanistan.

"That said, there are always things we continue to tweak and that's happened right through the process, but I really don't have a concern about this location at all.

"We have had one or two issues in others, they have been quickly put right and I sense morale is very high and we're just delighted to be part of a great success story."

He said many members of the forces might not be used to having such direct contact with the public.

"Not normal members of the public, Afghans and Iraqis and people like that. Because we're so busy, perhaps we haven't had that opportunity as much as we used to have, so it's been fantastic.

"For us, it's been a wonderful opportunity to be seen and to see the people from whom we spring and we're delighted to be part of it."

He and Lord Coe met various soldiers, even jumping on two spinning bikes in the gym to have a go.

Lord Coe struggled with his bike, having to loosen the tension, saying: "I thought I had suddenly become very weak!"

In the camp's welfare tent, where troops can watch Olympic events on televisions, Lord Coe posed for photographs with troops.

Lance Corporal Chris Ferguson, who has been involved in searching vehicles going in and out of the media centre at the Olympic Park, admitted being drafted in at such short notice had proved problematic, but was pragmatic about the situation.

"It's been an eye-opener, don't get me wrong, there's been some good and bad points, but it's what we're trained to do," said the 27-year-old, from Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

The father of two said it had interfered with his plans for the summer, but free travel was allowing him to travel home to see his wife and two daughters.

"Me and my wife have got a holiday booked so when we get back we've got something to look forward to," he added.

L/Cpl Ferguson said he had met some celebrities going in and out of the media centre, including Chris Evans, but he had not managed to get into many events.

"I'm going to see the marathon on Sunday, and I'm desperate to go to the athletics, but I've not had any luck yet," he said.

Warrant Officer Second Class Andrew Ashton has been involved in transporting troops to and from the camp.

The 38-year-old, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, said they were "sort of stuck on a limb" at the camp, but were watching a lot of the Games on TV.

"The lads have seen a hell of a lot on the telly," he said.

Asked about living standards, he insisted they were some of the best he had seen in 22 years in the army.

"It's quite small, but you have got beds, toilets, a welfare tent and it's good for running."

Chef Corporal James Owen, 36, from Cardiff, said of the tickets: "The more the Games has gone on, they have started gradually coming out a bit more. Now we get a call every day that if anyone wants to go and watch, they can."