AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — There was never a formal ceremony to welcome Col. Rosario Scarpolini to his new command in September 2001.

That’s because on the day the Italian contingent at one of Italy’s best-known air bases was practicing for the ceremony, terrorists struck New York City and the Pentagon. All those concerned quickly decided a ceremony the next day wouldn’t be appropriate.

Unless there’s a disaster of similar proportions, Scarpolini will attend another ceremony on Sept. 15 when he gives way to Col. Roberto Sardo as the Italian base commander at Pagliano e Gori Aeroporto — commonly known to Americans as Aviano Air Base.

Of course, the 48-year-old Scarpolini has been to plenty of ceremonies during his four years at Aviano. He’s worked with four brigadier generals who commanded the 31st Fighter Wing in that span. He’s the longest-serving Italian commander on base since the wing activated in 1994.

“We normally change every two years,” he said Wednesday. “Why I was extended, I don’t know.”

At Aviano, Scarpolini commands only about 250 Italian air force personnel. But numbers can be deceiving.

“I don’t have any aircraft or pilots on my command,” he said. “But I’m responsible for them.”

“Them” refers to the American forces stationed at Aviano. In Italy, the United States doesn’t own the bases where its personnel are located.

The Air Force, Navy and Army all perform their duties as guests of the Italian government. Scarpolini said the wing essentially operates under the same privileges and regulations that an Italian unit would. It’s been his job to make sure those rules are followed and to act as a liaison between the wing and Italian authorities.

While some Italian critics of the base argue that Americans receive special treatment, Scarpolini insists that isn’t the case. He said the wing often doesn’t get all that it wants. Compromises are worked out routinely.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But I’ve loved my time here.”

His next assignment will be as a staff officer at Poggio Renatico near Ferrara at the Italian version of the United States’ Air Component Command.

Sardo, born in the nearby city of Conegliano, currently holds a similar position. He’ll be the 17th Italian commander at Aviano since 1955.

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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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