VICENZA, ITALY - U. S. Army Africa (USARAF) leaders took part in a staff ride to explore and learn about Italian involvement in World War I, May 24-26, 2011. More than 40 people from the USARAF command took part in the ride that featured a guided bus and walking tour of World War I Italian battlefields, memorials and museums.
Taking part in the three-day staff ride that followed a route in northern Italy through the mountains of western Slovenia where the 1917 battle of Caporetto was fought were USARAF Soldiers and Civilians, and Italian Army soldiers.
“This staff ride was an opportunity to learn more about Italy as a host nation and take back knowledge from lessons learned from the Italian Army’s World War I battles,” said Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, USARAF commander.
Lt. Col. Angel Mesa, USARAF chief of operations, explained the reasoning behind staff rides.
“Staff rides have been a part of Army culture for many years, and this was a great opportunity to learn more about, and partner with our Italian hosts,” Mesa said. “It was also a great opportunity to see another historical perspective of World War I and how we can use some of the lessons learned for ourselves as we look at conflicts now.”
The tour offered an expanded perspective of World War I politics and trench warfare. USARAF Operations Sgt. Major Frank Lauer said the tour enhanced his viewpoint of World War I.
“When most Americans think of World War I trench warfare, it’s normally fighting in France alongside the British,” Lauer said. “This staff ride really showed the tremendous sacrifice the Italians made in defending their country " and it’s not something we see a lot of in our history books.”
Italian military history experts gave staff ride participants the benefit of their vast knowledge of each and every memorial and battlefield during the ride.
Italo Cati, an Italian military historian and author, provided insights to the vast number of casualties the Italian Army suffered defending their border from troops of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the war.
Cati spent a day guiding participants on a walking tour of trenches on former battlefields adjacent to the huge Italian war memorial known as Sacrario Militare di Redipuglia near Gorizia, Italy, where more than 100,000 Italian soldiers are buried at the memorial. Italian Army Maj. Manuele Savio, who works with USARAF operations, translated Cati’s descriptions of the site into English for ride participants.
Italian Professor Paolo Pozzato, a military historian and former Italian Army officer, spent a day giving ride participants detailed analysis of Italy’s involvement in World War I that culminated in the battle of Caporetto. On the last day of the tour Lt. Col Lucio Merlo, carabinari commander of Southern European Task Force, provided commentary on historical structures in Venzone, Italy.
Ride participants also visited battlefield sites near Gorizio and Pozzuolo del Friuli, Italy as well as in Koberid and Bovec, Slovenia.