U.S., Italy still negotiating use of Dal Molin airfield
May 8, 2006
To transform into one of the Army’s units of action, the 173rd Airborne Brigade needs more troops.
But there’s no more space on Caserma Ederle, the main Italian base for U.S. forces in Vicenza.
Headquarters to the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) since 1965, the base is surrounded on all sides and the potential for growth is minimal.
So, while U.S. Army Europe makes plans to temporarily house some elements of the expanding brigade in Germany, at bases such as Bamberg and Schweinfurt, negotiations continue in an effort to create more space in Vicenza.
Chief among potential sites is Dal Molin airfield in northwest Vicenza that is currently being used by both the Italian military and commercial interests. Negotiations have been under way for more than two years.
“Italy has agreed to make available portions of Dal Molin for use by U.S. forces,” said Ben Duffy, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. “The discussions are part of an ongoing dialogue between the Italian and U.S. militaries.”
Mel Sembler, the former American ambassador to Italy, told Stars and Stripes in April 2005 that a basic agreement had been reached. And Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Army Europe commander at the time, was quoted as saying, “I believe we have a consensus.”
Since then, much of the base’s population has served a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.
Duffy and Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, SETAF public affairs officer, won’t comment on whatever potential sticking points there might be to finalizing the agreement.
“It’s obvious we need more space here,” O’Hara said when pressed about the issue. “And Dal Molin works very well for us.”
U.S. forces have used Dal Molin while serving in NATO organizations. The center for air operations over the Balkans was based there until September 2001, when it shifted to Ferrara. American troops and personnel operate at a few other facilities around Vicenza, but only in small numbers.
Asked if a failure to reach a deal in the near future could lead the U.S. to pack up and locate somewhere else — maybe even out of the country — O’Hara said that only someone in Washington could answer that question. Congress holds the purse strings for the large amount of money needed to build U.S. facilities at Dal Molin — $800 million was mentioned by Sembler in the April interview. The Defense Department decides where troops are needed in coordination with the State Department, which weighs political considerations.
Indications are that even more agencies have stakes on the Italian side, which might be one reason the talks are proceeding at such a pace. The upcoming change in Italian leadership, from conservative to center left, might have further impacts.
In any case, it would take time to build housing or offices for U.S. forces at Dal Molin. Any potential movement of troops there is at least several years away, officials say, even if the talks ended this week.