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While the bulk of the 173rd Airborne Brigade still has an Afghan winter to look forward to before it returns to northern Italy, several future elements of the brigade combat team will be wintering in Germany.

In fact, hundreds of Sky Soldiers-to-be will spend several winters north of the Alps. Some might even serve a couple of tours without ever reporting to the brigade headquarters in Vicenza.

So how soon will all the members of the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team be stationed together in Vicenza?

“We don’t know,” said Lt. Col. Richard Caldwell, a public affairs officer with U.S. Army Europe.

“They’ve got to have something in place for them in Italy before they move. There aren’t facilities constructed for them in Italy now.”

Caserma Ederle — a small base surrounded by roads, homes, businesses and a prison — is the current headquarters for both the 173rd and its parent unit, the Southern European Task Force (Airborne). There’s no room for an additional 1,000-plus troops. More than a few people grumble about the base being too crowded as it is.

So the U.S. negotiated with the Italian government to station troops at an airfield in the Vicenza area that’s currently of little use to Italian forces. An agreement has been reached in principle, but there are still details to work out. New facilities have to be approved, funded and built at Dal Molin, leaving a realistic occupation date at least several years away.

“I can’t speculate,” Caldwell said of a specific year. “But you’ve got to build facilities. You can do the math.”

Caldwell said Wednesday he was not aware of any units now based in Vicenza that would temporarily move to Germany before moving back to Italy. But some Sky Soldiers will call Bamberg and Schweinfurt home for a few years. Four units currently part of the 1st Infantry Division will either convert to elements of the 173rd or inactivate and effectively contribute slots to the expanding brigade.

Two of those, the 82nd Engineer Battalion and 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment, are currently based in Bamberg. The engineer unit will become the 173rd’s Brigade Troops Battalion and the artillery unit will form the 173rd’s Fire Battalion.

The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment based in Schweinfurt becomes the Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squadron for the 173rd and could stay put until the move to Vicenza. The 17th Signal Battalion, based in Kitzingen, will be inactivated and part of its slots will shift to Bamberg to join the 173rd, with the remainder allotted to the multifunctional aviation brigade that will remain in Germany.

With the 1st ID set to move back to the States in fiscal year 2006, Caldwell said the four units should convert sometime next year. “We’re working on that now to determine when,” he said.

But it’s likely the 173rd commander, Col. Kevin Owens, or his successor will be back in Europe in time to see the new units activated.

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