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The Southern European Task Force (Airborne) has helped rid 1,000 acres of land of unexploded ordnance, clearing the way for the unit to train closer to home.

SETAF, working closely with the Italian army, spent about $5 million to identify unexploded ordnance on a large piece of land northeast of Aviano Air Base, Italy, that once was used as a bombing range by allied aircraft.

“This joint Italian-American project has recovered four square kilometers of training land,” said Perry Doerr, deputy chief of training for SETAF. “It’s a real win-win situation for both militaries.”

The land is part of an area commonly called the Dandolo Range, which is controlled by Italy’s 132nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade from nearby Maniago. It is adjacent to the Juliet drop zone, which airborne troops regularly use for training.

But Doerr said the cleared parcel hasn’t been usable by anyone since the Italian army took control of it in 1998 after the Italian air force stopped using it for bombing runs. Aircraft from several NATO countries had used the range after taking off from Aviano to practice bombing.

Ordnance finds haven’t been limited to recent munitions. ABC S.a.S. of Florence, the company hired to find the munitions, also found unexploded ordnance dating to World War II.

The site formerly housed an airstrip used by Italians — and later Germans — and bombed by U.S. aircraft.

Italian explosive ordnance teams, under the command of Lt. Col. Giuseppe Tapparello, are clearing the unexploded ordnance after it is identified. The process is scheduled to be completed in March.

That means SETAF soldiers won’t be using the land for at least a year, since they’re bound for a long deployment to Afghanistan in the coming weeks. Italian forces will use the property for the same purpose, control access to the area and determine when training takes place.

Italian army Col. Salvatore Bordonaro, deputy chief of staff for SETAF, called the project “again a sign of the full cooperation and partnership that exists between Italy and the USA.”

Doerr said soldiers — American and Italian — currently parachute onto the Juliet zone, then have to wait for transportation before moving to nearby land and resuming the training.

Because the newly cleared land is between the drop zone and additional training area, soldiers now could march or take military vehicles between the two areas — engaging in a training scenario the entire time. That’s similar to what soldiers are able to do in Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr in Germany. The entire training area, much of it formed by a pair of river beds, stretches for more than 21 miles.

“It’s a benefit that soldiers south of the Alps don’t have to go north now to carry out a full-blown airborne assault,” said Lt. Col. Ed Manning, chief of training for SETAF.

Soldiers still won’t be firing live ammunition on any of the training areas — there’s another range nearby for that.

Doerr said local residents should be happy with the project.

“Other than the fact that they don’t have a lot of stuff that’s going to blow up in their back yards, they shouldn’t notice a difference,” he said.

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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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