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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — How would people in Kansas feel if about 8,000 Italian military personnel and their families descended into a small town and started working at a base they couldn’t gain entrance to?

That’s the kind of question some Italians pose when the question of the Air Force’s premier air base south of the Alps is brought up.

But ask the mayors of three communities surrounding the base about how they feel about their American neighbors, and there are few negatives.

In fact, Riccardo Berto, the mayor of Aviano, and Giovanni Baviera, the mayor of Fontanafredda, both say they’d like to see more American interaction in their communities. They say Americans carry the reputation of working, shopping, eating and spending most of their time on base. And only sleeping in the homes they rent from Italian landlords.

Baviera said Thursday that he’d like Americans to participate in local festivals and shop at local businesses more. He said he thinks the base needs to do a better job of letting Americans know about activities they could enjoy locally.

He said his relationship with Brig. Gen. Robert Yates, the 31st Fighter Wing commander, is very good and that the base has responded with volunteers to work on several projects in his community. But he said he’d like to see airmen and their families get to know the local community better.

Both Berto and Baviera, who come from conservative political parties historically friendly to the U.S., cite the base population’s contributions to the local economy as positives, especially in terms of rent. Landlords can generally get an American tenant, funded by housing subsidies, to pay more than an Italian.

The base also employs hundreds of Italian nationals.

Renzo Liva, the mayor of Roveredo in Piano, comes from the leftist Labor Party. Some members of the country’s center-left coalition want the American military out of Italy. But Liva doesn’t have a lot of bad things to say about the people who make up about 20 percent of his city’s population.

He said communication is always a factor, whether trying to explain garbage collection policies or just interact. Americans generally don’t pay taxes to maintain local roads and infrastructure either.

But he shakes his head when asked if he’d like to see the base close.

“It’s not the worst neighbor you could have,” he said, smiling.

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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 almost 38 years.
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