Helmick clears the air on Dal Molin use

Airfield will not be used as base to send troops to war, SETAF commander says

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 15, 2007

VICENZA, Italy — The U.S. military said Thursday that it does not plan to use Dal Molin airfield as a major staging base to go to war, as suggested in many recent articles in the Italian press.

U.S. officials have said all along that they don’t plan to use the airfield — officially signed off for American use by the Italian government — to ferry troops to and from Vicenza. Aviano Air Base, about 90 miles away, will continue to act as the deployment hub for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which recently used the air base to deploy to Afghanistan.

But articles in the Italian press and critics of the U.S. expansion in Vicenza have claimed the airfield will be used for such a purpose. Some have said that American fighter aircraft will also use the base.

“It will not be used as a major staging base,” Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), said Thursday at a news conference with about two dozen Italian journalists.

Helmick said the runway isn’t suitable for such actions. “It’s way too short to have any military aircraft on the ground,” he said.

So why use Dal Molin and not an empty field elsewhere?

“Dal Molin is the nearest military property to this caserma,” he said. And because of legal and logistical reasons, the U.S. wants to operate only in facilities built on land owned by the Italian military.

Col. Salvatore Bordonaro, the Italian base commander, said U.S. use of the airfield complex wouldn’t affect current use by small commercial craft. Officials showed off a few sketches of what the development might look like and said it would be separated from the actual runway by a fence.

Kambiz Razzaghi, picked to run the newly formed Transitional Construction Management Office, will manage six projects worth more than $400 million. That list includes a $10 million medical center on Ederle, an $11 million renovation of the Ederle Inn, the $10 million soldier-and-family entertainment center already under construction, a $13 million child development center and a $42 million school in the Villagio housing area.

The U.S. also has reached an agreement with an Italian contractor to build 215 homes outside the city that it will agree to rent for at least 10 years for about $52 million.

Razzaghi said all the contractors will be Italian and they’ll also be responsible for designing the facilities.

But the project with the most interest is the Dal Molin expansion. U.S. officials say they want to consolidate the 173rd in one location. Currently, only two of the brigade’s six battalions are located in Vicenza. The other four are in Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany.

There is no room at Ederle — where U.S. troops have lived and worked for more than 50 years — for additional troops.

U.S. officials have said Vicenza will house about 4,200 active-duty personnel once the consolidation is complete. Helmick pointed out that’s less than half the soldiers who lived in Vicenza in the 1980s when there were more than 400,000 American troops around Europe.

He told the reporters that the command planned to be proactive in meeting with local community leaders and those who felt strongly about the project. A lack of information released by the Americans to the public about the project probably has led to some of the many rumors about the project that have fueled protesters’ fears, he said.

Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), and Kambiz Razzaghi, director of the Transformation Construction Management Office, answer questions Thursday during a session to discuss construction projects in Vicenza, Italy. The main topic of discussion was the U.S. use of the Dal Molin airfield.