Future remains uncertain for La Maddalena
Stars and Stripes August 13, 2006
U.S. and Italian officials say no deal has been struck yet on when the Americans will close La Maddalena, a contentious naval base on the Italian island of Sardinia, refuting Italian media reports that U.S. sailors will be gone by spring of 2008.
“No official timeline has been decided on, and this subject remains an ongoing topic of discussion between the U.S. and Italian governments,” said Lt. Chris Servello, a spokesman for the Navy’s 6th Fleet.
The words echoed those of Italian officials. “There has been no decision made. We don’t know when it will close,” said an Italian Defense Ministry official. “Italian media is saying 2008, not us.”
The ministry hopes to have a firm timeline by the fall of 2007 in order to brief members of parliament, according to a formal statement.
Since last November’s surprise announcement by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — the timing of which caught Navy officials in Europe off guard — base officials started piecing together the “complicated puzzle of a lot of details” of ending the 34-year U.S. presence on the island, base commanding officer Capt. Gregory Billy said.
The facility is home to naval support staff, the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, and Submarine Squadron 22 — all told, roughly 2,600 Americans: military, civilians, and their dependents.
No U.S. submarines permanently are based at La Maddalena, but that has not quieted some Italian nationals and politicians who publicly protest the U.S. presence and the base’s assets to support nuclear submarines that stop there while transiting the Mediterranean Sea from the States.
The eventual closing of La Maddalena is one part of the Navy’s Europe-wide transformation process, which includes a major shift of naval forces from London to Naples, Italy, the downsizing of the facilities in Gaeta, Italy, and the closure of Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland.
“We’re taking a hard look: are these Cold War entities that need to be gotten rid of?” Capt. Richard Gonzalez, assistant deputy commander for operations support for Navy Region Europe, said, referring to Keflavik and La Maddalena.
Shutting down a base isn’t as easy as simply handing over a set of keys, Gonzalez said.
There are political, financial and logistical aspects that dictate the process, which can be unique with each base closure. Closing bases can cost the military millions of dollars, from severance packages for employees, to terminated service contracts, environmental cleanup, and transportation bills to move equipment, Gonzalez said.
Future employment remains the biggest concern for U.S. civilian and local national employees at La Maddalena, Billy said. The 177 local nationals are the hardest pressed to find work since the military base is the largest employer in the area. Some have found other jobs and some are at retirement age, he said. U.S. and Italian officials are working to find other jobs for the rest.
Base staffers are embroiled in details of the closure, from how many sailors will want to ship pets back to the States to the status of the more than 30 leases on office buildings the Navy uses, Billy said.
But until closure details firm, sailors, employees and their dependents continue with business as usual, with students, for example, planning on a full school year, he said.