AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — American troops may eventually leave Germany by the thousands, but south of the Alps, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

President Bush didn’t specifically mention forces in Italy during his speech Monday, during which he said that more than 70,000 troops could be pulled out of Europe in the next decade.

In fact, the only recent announcement regarding troop strength in Italy came in late July. A Pentagon statement indicated the 173rd Airborne Brigade would essentially double in size, adding 2,000 troops over the next few years.

The brief announcement said there would be more troops. But it was short on specifics, and SETAF isn’t ready to add any more.

“That is two years away from being reality,” said Sgt. Maj. Larry Lane, a public affairs officer. “So there is a lot of planning to do. Especially in terms of space issues and where [soldiers] will be housed and where they work.”

Vicenza’s Caserma Ederle, where both the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and the 173rd are based, doesn’t appear to have the space to handle such numbers. So a range of possibilities — including using other facilities around Vicenza or in other cities — might be possible.

“None of that has been decided yet,” Lane said.

The move would continue a trend for the 173rd, the main fighting component of SETAF. The brigade was reactivated in June 2000. The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment was activated in January 2002, joining the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment.

The mayor and vice mayor of the commune of Vicenza couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. They’re among the millions of Italians on vacation in August.

An employee in the Italian Ministry of Defense said questions must be submitted in writing and indicated answers would not be available by Stripes’ deadline.

While the Army may have plans to grow in Italy, the other services aren’t ready to talk about their communities.

Capt. Gordon Hume, a Navy spokesman in London, said the service is engaged in continuous talks with its European allies on such matters. But he said he couldn’t talk specifics on sizable Navy communities in Naples and Sigonella, Sicily.

Aviano, the site of one of the military’s largest ongoing construction projects, rarely has been mentioned by officials talking about transformation in Europe. But it’s the established transit point for the SETAF paratroops, as well as the home of two F-16 fighter squadrons.

The base once housed planes from other NATO air forces in addition to the 555th and 510th fighter squadrons. But there’s been no word on whether additional planes or airmen might be sent to northeastern Italy.

“We haven’t studied this option,” said Brig. Gen. Philip Breedlove. “But if the president tells us that we’ll be taking on another fighter squadron, the men and women of the 31st Fighter Wing will make it happen.”

Breedlove said some infrastructure changes would be needed and the base’s Italian hosts also would have to OK a series of other measures to make it viable.

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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