Talks in Rome may hold key to Dal Molin airfield's future
July 4, 2006
The future of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) in Vicenza might become a little clearer this week.
A local Italian delegation headed by Vicenza’s mayor, Enrico Hullweck, is headed down to Rome on Thursday to participate in talks that will include discussion on Dal Molin, an Italian airfield that the U.S. hopes to soon use.
Fabio Carraro, the mayor’s press secretary, confirmed by telephone that the meeting would take place and would involve representatives from Italy and the U.S.
“We are going to listen more than talk,” Carraro said of the Vicenza delegation.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Army Europe said last week she could say nothing about the talks.
“There’s nothing new to report at this point,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner.
Dal Molin is an airfield northwest of Caserma Ederle that once was used by NATO forces. The Italian military has largely pulled out, leaving the facility to be used for commercial purposes.
Carraro said one of Hullweck’s concerns is that future use by the U.S. military might harm those commercial interests. He said another concern is that the airfield could be used to launch attacks outside the country, something many local residents are opposed to.
That’s not likely to happen. If current construction is any indication, the U.S. plans to continue to use Aviano Air Base as the launching point for the 173rd Airborne Brigade and other SETAF units.
The Sky Soldiers left from and arrived at Aviano, which is about 90 minutes from Vicenza, during their recent yearlong stint in Afghanistan. In 2003, about 1,000 soldiers based in Vicenza flew on C-17s from Aviano and jumped into northern Iraq.
New facilities for paratroops will soon join dozens of other new facilities along the flight line at Aviano. And military leaders have been quoted in the past as stating that Aviano would continue to be viable not only for its F-16 jets, but as a launching pad for the paratroops.
The U.S. would use portions of Dal Molin as office space and housing for single soldiers. Mel Sembler, the former U.S. ambassador to Italy, said in April 2005 that an agreement in principle had been reached. But the details are still being hammered out. Until a deal is worked out and construction completed, hundreds of soldiers in the 173rd will live at bases in Germany.
Housing those additional soldiers is another of Hullweck’s concerns, Carraro said. A build-to-lease program was announced last year by the U.S. military. But officials said at that time the 200 units would serve to address current housing problems for Americans in the city of 113,000 (and province of 800,000), not future ones.