FORLI, Italy - Its not very often that Soldiers can claim that they were the very first to do something, but troops from the 13th Military Police Company have earned such bragging rights - along with a new set of Italian Air Assault wings.

The Italian army's 66th Infantry Regiment, Aeromobile here put 18 U.S. Soldiers through a nine-day Air Assault course where Soldiers learned rappelling skills, mount and dismount on helicopters, and finished with a nine-mile road march.

"The Italians are very passionate about their air assault course. The training went very smoothly and was very professional," said Sgt. 1st Class Kenton Peterson.

While the 66th Infantry Regiment has a long history, its air assault capability is only six years old and is the only such unit in the Italian army.
"A lot of their training is based on U.S. doctrine so it is very similar to our training, just a little more laid back," said Peterson.

Yet another first went to Sgt. Melissa Potter, who had the honor of being the first and only American woman to complete the training. "I (am) very honored," Potter said. "I did not know that this was the first Italian air assault course (completed by non-Italian forces). I just thought it would be some good training. It's a good partnership with the Italian army. It strengthens our bond."

Previously, no other foreign military had participated in joint air assault training with the 66th - and in today's coalition environment, the need to understand each other is greater than ever, noted 13th MP participants.

"I hope the Soldiers (now see) how other countries and militaries operate; when we do work with them downrange, we will understand more of the culture, military tasks and technical procedures," said Capt. James Towery, 13th MP commander.

Training with a foreign military has its challenges, language barriers being one of the more obvious. Consequently, Italian Capt. Michele Sciannamea, 66th Training Company commander, spent hours studying an English dictionary to ensure he had everything correct during training.

The U.S. military policemen presented Sciannamea with a certificate of appreciation for his hard work and dedication, which ensured the Americans got everything they needed out of the instruction.

"We had very good results from the training, and we would like to repeat this again in the future. This training helps build cooperation between our two nations," said Sciannamea.

While the U.S. Soldiers were training in Forli, 18 Italian infantrymen visited Caserma Ederle to live the life of a U.S. Soldier for eight days. The Soldiers from the 66th were trained and certified for Combatives Level I, conducted Military Operations Urban Terrain training and qualified on the M-4 Carbine, earning U.S. Army marksmanship badges that they will be able to wear on their uniforms.

The Italians quickly learned that days in the U.S. Army begin early, with the pace demanding. Maresciallo Ordinario (Chief Warrant Officer) Mario Nunziata said, "Now I understand why Americans have so much for breakfast. They get up early and train hard to work up such an appetite."

"These guys learned a lot in a very short time." said Pfc. Sean Thomas a 13th MP Co. Soldier who acted as an interpreter during training. "They were very motivated and I think they also had a lot of fun training here."

For the Italians, the chance to learn skills such as hand-to-hand combat and MOUT was paramount, Nunziata said, adding that he "now has more confidence."

The training ended for the Italians with a graduation ceremony where they were presented marksmanship badges, a SETAF Certificate of Training and the Combatives Level 1 Training certificate.

"There is no doubt that the friendships made during this joint endeavor are sure to leave a lasting impression that will sustain the warrior spirit of all these Soldiers for a lifetime." said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Hahn, 13th MP Co. operations sergeant.

Both units would like to conduct further training in the future, as it benefits all involved, said Hahn.

(Spc. Kathryn Jorgenson is a member of the Southern European Task Force Public Affairs Office)