VICENZA, Italy (Oct. 10, 2019) - A desire to spend a day like a Soldier and to learn more about the Vicenza military community brought more than a dozen kids and their parents from the Vicenza For Children team to Caserma Ederle, Oct. 4.
VFC, a local non-profit organization that provides non-medical support to children diagnosed with a critical illness and receiving care at Vicenza's San Bortolo Hospital, can rely on Soldiers to leave the children smiling.
According to VFC's chair Coralba Scarrico, "the team operates around the belief that a wish experience can make life better and ultimately help children feel stronger, more willing, and able to battle their fight for healing."
U.S. Army Garrison Italy and VFC made a special commitment earlier this summer to look for ways to change the lives of children and the families they assist.
"Wishes make life better for kids and families battling with serious conditions. This simple, yet powerful, belief drives what we do as an organization and helps us build networks to deliver life-changing experiences that will last forever," Scarrico said.
"'You'll never be alone' is our team's slogan and the American community of Caserma Ederle never makes us feel alone as they always embrace us with a warm welcome," said Veronica Tommasetto, escorting parent and deputy chair of the organization.
For most of the twelve young visitors aged between six and 18, it was their first time on base.
To welcome the special guests was the entire garrison command team who treated the visitors to an afternoon packed with fun and hands-on activities.
"It is a great pleasure to have you here with us today. I look forward to a continued successful partnership and can promise we will do our best to make each visit an unforgettable experience," said USAG commander Col. Daniel J. Vogel in his welcome remarks.
In charge of the special escort mission were Capt. Jacob Forrey, garrison Headquarters' company commander, and 1st Sgt. Riccardo Ard.
"It was such an honor to host our friends from Vicenza for Children. These amazing children and teenagers have each overcome significant adversity. Most have fought to overcome cancer or other serious physical conditions. Their resolve and tenacity embodies the warrior spirit we instill in our Soldiers each day, and they represent the best of our Italian community. We look forward to our next opportunity to host them," Forrey said.
First on the itinerary was a stop at the garrison's Fire Station, which offered a great opportunity to get information about fire safety directly from the experts.
"Fire station tours are always a fun experience for children, and our U.S. and Italian firefighters enjoy interacting with them as it's never too early to learn about fire safety," said Jeffrey Hawkins, USAG Italy Fire & Emergency Services chief.
"We focus many of our programs to both American and Italian elementary and middle school children, and we try to show them what 'right' looks like. Whether it's talking about electrical safety, smoke detectors or even what to do in the case of a fire; our goal is for the kids to take what they have learned back to their families and talk about the importance of fire prevention. We believe if we can prevent just one injury or one fire, then we have achieved a level of success in our community outreach program," said Hawkins.
Giorgia, 17-years-old and a former oncology patient, was impressed by the fire department visit and equipment.
"I really liked the moment when we were shown and explained carefully all the components and objects that are inside the fire engine, and how they can be used in any emergency. I understand why firemen have rightfully earned a reputation of community heroes," she said.
Parents, too, had reason to smile.
"Today my six-year-old daughter Vittoria had the joy of fulfilling her dream. She finally got to know a firefighter up close. At home she has everyone playing firemen as her favorite cartoon is 'Sam the fireman'. Seeing her little face full of joy and her eyes full of wonder made me so happy and so grateful that I couldn't stop smiling. Watching her enthusiasm and seeing how she was pampered and cared for filled my heart with joy," Tommasetto said.
Next on the visit was the Tactical Vehicle Maintenance facility that offered an opportunity to climb inside military vehicles and see repair tools close up. A couple laps around the large parking area in the armored vehicles made both kids and parents happy.
"Having a chance a ride on a military truck was what I like the most today. It was fun and made me feel like a super hero," said Gregorio Gelosi, a 10-year-old super hero who beat cancer.
The tour continued with a visit to the garrison's Headquarters where they could take a peek inside the Installation Operation Center and learn how it is used in sending Soldiers on missions and coordinating emergencies.
At the last stop of the tour, kids and parents explored the training area and jump tower where they learned more about the mission of the Sky Soldiers from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne).
After Forrey and Ard shared the basics of paratrooper training, the day ended with cheers and faces full of camouflage paint. A more important connection with Soldiers was realized by one visitor.
"It was great to be back on Ederle. I really enjoyed last year's visit, but personally I found today's itinerary more engaging and more in depth," said 18-year-old Vincenzo Saviato. "The only thing left unchanged, which was also the most important, was that each one of us, in our own way, can be a soldier and fight our battle by winning and losing but always getting stronger than before."
Participating at the event were also Luigi and Chiara, the parents of Edoardo De Ecclesiis, a young warrior who back in 2017 made the wish to live a day like a U.S. Soldier. That honored request was the catalyst of the partnership between VFC and the Vicenza military community. Edoardo lost his battle to cancer in November 2017, but his memory and fight against cancer is remembered in the many events that bring together Soldiers and VFC.
"Seeing all the other children having fun today evoked some sad memories as I would think of Edo [Edoardo], and how he enjoyed that day he spent here on base. However, thinking that every year we continue to offer other young patients the change to spend a day like this helps me overcome the pain of his loss. United with the garrison we can do purposeful work, and that's what keeps us going," Luigi De Ecclesiis said.