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VICENZA, Italy — After a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, soldiers assigned to the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) set aside time in March and April to recuperate. This month, the pace starts to pick up again.

SETAF’s major subordinate unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, will use the next year (and more) to transform into one of the Army’s units of action.

And while “transformation” is a key word for the Army, a better word for Vicenza might just be “change.” Just about every major command will change hands over the next few months. Two of the 173rd’s battalions will change their names. Some troops will stay in SETAF, but change their addresses.

And even more troops will no longer wear the Lion of Saint Mark or flying-sword patches of the “Sky Soldiers” on their shoulders.

Just when all of this will take place is just like an airborne soldier — a little up in the air. Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, the public affairs officer for SETAF, said several factors will determine when certain events take place.

Chief among them is the status of Dal Molin airfield, which the U.S. hopes to use as an additional base in Vicenza. Caserma Ederle is too small to move in the additional troops that the 173rd will eventually call its own.

The U.S. has been negotiating with the Italian government regarding the little-used base for more than two years and some progress reportedly has been made. But negotiations continue, and no one involved will talk about the process.

O’Hara said regardless of the times and dates, the process will proceed in some manner.

"The 173rd will continue on with its transformation,” he said, brushing aside questions about Dal Molin and any timetables.

It’s unlikely that more than a few of those currently a part of SETAF will be around to see the finished product. Because a massive amount of construction would be necessary at Dal Molin, it’s likely that the entire brigade combat team won’t be all together in Vicenza until at least 2010 and probably a bit beyond that.

In the meantime, “Sky Soldiers” will be based at places such as Bamberg, Germany. At least one battalion might form there. And a second likely will be based there.

Lt. Col. Cynthia Fox, commander of the 173rd Support Battalion (Airborne), said in an interview in late February that her battalion was set to temporarily move from Vicenza to Bamberg. And it will likely get a small name change at some point. Not that Fox will still be around. She’ll be one of a host of commanders moving on this summer.

Lt. Col. Tim McGuire is set to give up command of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment this month. He’ll be the last commander of the “Red Devils” in Vicenza, because the unit designation will officially become a part of the 82nd Airborne Division. The new battalion in Vicenza will be called the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, joining the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment that’s already a part of the 173rd.

"The Rock” is due to change commanders as well, with Lt. Col. Mark Stammer moving over to a job on the SETAF staff in June. His current boss, Col. Kevin Owens, is giving up command of the 173rd in June as well, with Col. Charles Preysler taking over. Owens heads to a job at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Stammer will be joining a veteran crew on the SETAF staff, where many of the positions won’t change hands for a while. Two big exceptions are Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the SETAF commander, and Brig. Gen. Bill Mayville, the chief of staff.

They will be heading to other positions in the Army. But they will be far from alone. Owens estimates that as much as half of the brigade will have left in the months following its return to Italy. And Stammer said about two-thirds of his battalion will either be out of the military or serving somewhere else.

Those remaining will be integrating an array of new equipment as well as personnel. Many of the Humvees and other materiel was left behind in Afghanistan, so replacements will eventually make their way to Caserma Ederle. Or wherever else the 173rd will be calling home.

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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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