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On Base: Vicenza

By Sarah J Schmidt

Dream Assignment, If You've Got The Time

The good news: You've got an assignment to Italy. The bad news: Work and deployments may keep you so busy that you won't have much time to enjoy it. Never mind - it's still a dream assignment, and if you manage your time wisely, perhaps some of your Ferrari, fun and fashion fantasies could actually come true!

Here's what to expect if there's a PCS or TDY to Vicenza, Italy, in your future.

Hard Work At Vicenza

U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza is home to the Southern European Task Force (SETAF). Based in Europe since the 1950s, SETAF now performs rapid reaction Army-led joint task force deployments around the globe. The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and the 24th Quartermaster Company are the two largest SETAF units on post at Vicenza. Other units on post include the 509th Signal Battalion and Armed Forces Network South, plus additional finance, personnel and support detachments.

The troops assigned here maintain robust combat capabilities, with the ability to deploy anywhere within 24 hours. Many units are now in their second rotations into Iraq and other global hot spots. At any given time, there's at least one unit from Vicenza deployed somewhere in the world. SETAF also provides opportunities for working with foreign military units as it operates and exercises with other countries throughout the European command.

Now you understand why there may not be loads of time to enjoy Italy if you're assigned to one of the many deployable jobs at Vicenza. But the workload here can be heavy even when a unit is not deployed. Many soldiers, for instance, train to receive their Expert Infantry Badges (EIBs) on a challenging obstacle course built at Vicenza. Soldiers can complete all EIB requirements except for a marksmanship test; since there's no shooting range at Vicenza, they go elsewhere in Europe for that portion of the EIB testing.

The heavy ops tempo takes a toll on families as well as soldiers. The Army knows this and in recent years has undertaken significant efforts to accommodate families before, during and after deployments. Vicenza boasts a model program called SPARK, designed to give military spouses and family members critical information and support in a friendly, fun environment. The one-day program for spouses includes briefings on everything from financial issues to family advocacy, followed by a catered Italian lunch and an afternoon of pampering with beauty makeovers and gifts provided by local organizations. A similar program for kids offers facilitated discussions on post-deployment issues, plus an opportunity to hang out with friends.

Busy Life On Post

Despite the high ops tempo, soldiers and their families take advantage of many amenities on post, including a theatre that shows first-run movies five nights a week, Joe Dugan's Restaurant & Pub, a bowling alley, an impressive two-story fitness center, and a couple of outstanding coffee shops (Starbucks doesn't even come close to Italian cappuccino).

Vicenza is actually an Italian base; the U.S. is a tenant here, so there are several Italian units assigned to the post, which adds to the international flavor. One of these, the carabinieri (the Italian equivalent to military police), lives in barracks on post. Having the carabinieri here creates a nice feeling of security, although the threat level in this part of Europe is relatively low.

Crime rates in this area also are low in comparison to other parts of Italy. All the military houses here are built with garages, which helps prevent petty crimes. However, no houses actually exist on post; a separate housing area off-post called Villaggio consists of 373 houses. The U.S. government also leases several apartment and duplex housing units around the Vicenza area for families. Single soldiers live in newly renovated high-rise dorms on post.

More than 9,000 soldiers, civilians, family members and retirees live and work in the Vicenza community. There's a lot packed into this small area, which makes it easy to traverse on foot or bicycle. Finding a parking spot can be a daunting task – and you will need to come on post for a lot of things, from deployment briefings to PX shopping. But don't spend all your time on post; there's much to see and experience in the local area.

Enjoying Italy

The Italian Alps, the famous Dolomites, shadow Vicenza to the north, offering world-class skiing and snowboarding. To the east, only a 45-minute drive away, lies the city of Venice with its romantic gondolas and water canals. To the west lies the fashion capitol Milan, and to the south are the historic cities of Pisa and Florence. All these nearby attractions make Vicenza a perfect location for exploring much of northern Italy.

At the very least, check out Camp Darby, another Army installation just a couple hours south of Vicenza on the Italian coast near Pisa. The post even has its own private beach with cottages available for rent to military personnel at very affordable prices.

No one goes to Italy without doing a little shopping, even on a budget. The elegant boutiques attract high-end shoppers, of course, but every city and town in the area hosts a weekly outdoor market where bargains are plentiful. There's even an Armani Outlet in Trissino, about 30 minutes from Vicenza.

The most famous products from this area are Murano glass and handmade lace. Shops throughout Vicenza and surrounding areas display glassware (the PX even stocks some varieties), but the best deals can be found on the island of Murano, where the glass is made. Most of the handmade lace comes from another island called Burano. Both these islands can be reached by ferry from nearby Venice.

Yes, a PCS or TDY to Vicenza can be a dream assignment, despite the busy demands of Army life. An experience of a lifetime awaits those willing to take the adventure.          

Vicenza At A Glance

Housing: Waiting lists are long. Single E4s and below usually get rooms in the barracks upon arrival. E5s and above are expected to live off base. If government housing isn't available off base in Villaggio or elsewhere, soldiers must rent on the economy. Average time to find private housing is 30 days. Be prepared to put some household goods in storage. Don't bring American appliances; they won't work on Europe's 220 voltage. The Centralized Furnishings Management Office (CFMO) supplies major appliances such as refrigerators, but you may need to find smaller appliances at local thrift stores.

Cost of Living: With the dollar falling against the euro, the cost of living in Vicenza can be a weekly challenge as exchange rates fluctuate. This also determines your purchasing power in local markets. Cost-of-living allowances make up most of the difference, but COLA adjustments frequently lag behind the fluctuating exchange rates, so watch the weekly changes. Signs are posted everywhere.

Schools: Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) operates an elementary and middle/high school on post for about 1,000 students. Plans are underway to build a new elementary and middle school in the Villaggio housing area, with groundbreaking anticipated later this year. Students also may attend one of many Italian schools in the surrounding area. Italian asilo (pre-schools) for children ages three to five also are open to American children.

Higher Education: Four colleges and universities offer select certification and degree programs through the Vicenza Education Center.

Employment: The Status of Forces Agreement prohibits military dependents from working off base unless they obtain ordinary resident status and pay employment taxes. Opportunities for on-base employment are limited. Positions most available are in child care, administration, education and retail.

Climate: Due to its poor air quality and high humidity, Vicenza is not recommended for people suffering from asthma or reactive airway problems. Winter temperatures fall into the low 20s with heavy fog. Vicenza doesn't get a lot of snow, but higher elevations nearby have plenty. Summer temps jump into the 90s.