Generali di Brigata Roberto Ranucci, commander of the Ariete Brigata, which will soon deploy to Iraq.

Generali di Brigata Roberto Ranucci, commander of the Ariete Brigata, which will soon deploy to Iraq. (Kent Harris / S&S)

PORDENONE, Italy — Thousands of U.S. servicemembers based in Vicenza and Aviano have deployed to operations in southwest Asia this year. But they’re not the only ones in northern Italy serving their country in Iraq or Afghanistan.

About 1,000 Italian soldiers from the Ariete Brigata, composed of units throughout northern Italy, are in the process of deploying to Iraq.

Headquartered in Pordenone, the Ariete is the country’s only armored brigade. Its commander, Generali di Brigata Roberto Ranucci, will also command other elements in Iraq, including Italian air force, carabinieri and special forces units. All told, there will be nearly 3,000 troops.

“We are prepared,” Ranucci said through a translator in his office Thursday. “We want to bring our contribution, to perform the missions that have been assigned to us.”

The Italians are headquartered outside the city of Nasariyah at Camp Mittica, named after a medal winner from the brigade. It’s near Ali Base — formerly known as Tallil Air Base — where U.S. forces are stationed.

The brigade will be replacing the Forgore Brigata, a paratroop unit based in Livorno. The Italians fall under the command of the British forces based in Basra.

Ranucci said that, compared to elsewhere in Iraq, the area the Italians patrol is “relatively calm.” But, he said, it’s dangerous anywhere in Iraq and “obviously there is concern” by families of those deploying. So units have set up support groups to help families during the deployment, expected to last about four months.

Though opinion polls constantly find that the vast majority of Italians are opposed to U.S.-led operations in Iraq, Ranucci said his soldiers’ morale is “very, very good. Most of them already know the situation and they know the importance of the work we are going to do there.”

Ranucci served four months in Iraq in early 2004 along with other members of the brigade during its first deployment to the country.

There will be a few new twists to the brigade’s mission.

It will be the first time that female officers will serve alongside male counterparts on a deployment. The brigade recently received its first female graduates from the country’s military academy. Unlike the U.S. military, females in the Italian forces are able to serve in any unit or specialty.

The country also completed its transition to an all-volunteer force earlier this year, so all those deploying to Iraq have chosen to join the military as a career.

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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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