VICENZA, Italy – The Army’s newest installation is open for business.
Caserma Del Din, the new home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, celebrated a grand opening Tuesday with an array of American and Italian dignitaries in attendance.
“I am very proud to say it is the most beautiful base of any army of any nation that I’ve seen around the world,” said Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, the No. 2 Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and one of three members of Congress attending the ceremony.
The $310 million project, which faced considerable opposition from Italians against militarism, will house elements of the 173rd, the 509th Signal Battalion and eventually U.S. Army Africa. A few dozen protesters still opposed to the project gathered several blocks away.
David Thorne, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, and Col. David Buckingham, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, each said that further efforts would be made to win over critics and expand the ties between the American community that has called Vicenza home for decades and its Italian neighbors.
Lt. Gen. Claudio Graziano, chief of staff of the Italian army, suggested strengthening ties between the two countries’ militaries in his remarks, including an exchange of officers between the 173rd and Italy’s “Folgore” airborne brigade.
Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr., commander of U.S. Army Europe, was among those who said the base itself — “a truly remarkable installation” — was a testament to the strength of the relationship between the two countries. He said it was the first Department of Defense installation of its size built to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Silver environmental standards.
The base, which resembles a college campus, has two large parking structures and is designed for people to get around by foot or bike. Roughly 1,000 soldiers will live on base, with officers, senior enlisted or those with families moving into homes around the area.
Some troops have already moved into barracks and some offices are occupied. Other troops are expected to make the move during the summer.
Sanchez said the U.S. and Italy were talking about such a facility before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But it’s only been in the public eye the last six or seven years.
Paolo Costa, president of the Venice Port Authority and a member of the European Parliament, was designated the point man for the project in 2007 by the Italian government.
He said Tuesday that he was “very happy” with the results and downplayed the amount of time it took to get the facility approved, built and operational. All building projects in Italy involve a time for paper and a time for bricks, he said.
“Putting it together, six years is almost nothing,” Costa said.
Despite the mix of Italian and American VIPs, the person gaining the most attention at the ceremony was 89-year-old Paola Del Din, a famed Italian partisan during World War II. The base is named after her brother, Renato, who was killed while conducting a raid against Nazi forces on April 25, 1944.