At Italian outpost, U.S. troops train for urban warfare
Stars and Stripes August 12, 2006
SAN GIORGIO, Italy — Looking for a place to train for urban warfare, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade traveled from their home base in one of northern Italy’s larger cities to a mountain village near the Austrian border.
Despite the seeming contradiction, leaders of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment said this week’s training at an Italian base near the village of San Giorgio is more realistic than it would be back at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza.
“A lot of guys say, ‘Can’t you do this in the Caserma?’” said Capt. Tom Bostwick, commander of Company B. “Well, no you can’t.”
Though Vicenza — and the American base there — has a lot more buildings than the small Italian compound, residents would probably frown on U.S. soldiers kicking in doors, pointing weapons and firing off a few rounds of blank ammunition.
The base does have a single building for such training, but at the Italian base, only a short drive from the Brenner Pass and the city of Innsbruck, Austria, there are several that soldiers can train.
And very few distractions to keep them from listening to their noncommissioned officers.
So Bostwick said his company is thankful that its Italian hosts — the 6th Alpini Regiment — extended an invitation. “What we’re trying to do is get guys ready for Iraq, Afghanistan or any other mission we’re told to go on,” Bostwick said.
“Here (at the Italian base), we don’t have distractions or soldiers who have to fill out details. I get everyone here and we get on one sheet of music.”
Such training is important, Bostwick said, not only for the safety of the soldiers but also for any noncombatants who might be in such structures.
U.S. forces have specific ways of searching a room, with each soldier assigned a specific task. Certain procedures have to be followed to maximize the safety of the soldiers and innocents inside.
It’s the first time that the brigade has used the Italian base’s facilities, which are used by Italian troops for similar purposes. Some Italian troops observed their U.S. counterparts training.
Others guided a platoon each day on a 9-mile walk through the countryside and partway up the nearby mountains.
“The guys were saying, ‘Do you remember this? Just take away the trees and add heat and you have Afghanistan,’” said 2nd Lt. Roy Emerson, 1st Platoon leader, whose soldiers took the walk on the first day of training.
Lt. Col. Mike Fenzel, battalion commander, said the training is meant to supplement what the soldiers will receive at U.S. facilities in Grafenwöhr, Germany, in the fall.
“We want to get the basics down before we get to Graf,” he said.
Training at Italian facilities such as San Giorgio makes sense because of the time, distance and money involved in traveling, he said.
Emerson watched as soldiers from his platoon went through drills. Again. And again. And again.
Sgt. 1st Class Eddie King said it might seem repetitive to a casual observer. That’s because it essentially is repetitive.
“To the point where they could do it blindfolded or in their sleep,” he said.
“You’re always going to learn in combat. That’s just the way it goes. But there’s some basic things you need to know before you go into combat.
“Until you get there, you try to make the training as hard and realistic as possible.”