BALA MURGHAB, AFGHANISTAN
BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan - Italian mountain soldiers, known as Alpini, teamed with Afghan National Army to hold the front line on the eastern sector of Bala Murghab's southern perimeter.
Living in rugged mountains is not a new lifestyle for the Alpini, who were formed in the late 1800s and are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world. Alpini saw their first combat on foreign soil in 1888, in Africa.
More than a century after their first engagements, Alpini soldiers are again fighting, and doing it from the terrain they know best, mountains.
Their current battlefield is insurgent-infested mountains on the outskirts of the BMG Valley.
“When we arrived in Bala Murghab, there were only two Italian [combat outpost] positions,” said Alpini Warrant Officer (Equivalent to American E-8) Stephen Gagliardi, during a resupply convoy to COP Sigma.
Gagliardi was the convoy commander, and hails from the 6th Company, Tolmezzo Battalion, 8 Alpini Regiment, Julia Brigade in Udine, Italy.
“When we opened COP Sigma, the insurgents attacked us nearly very often,” said Gagliardi. “We had to build the COP at night because the insurgents didn't attack as much after dark.”
There also weren't any Afghans living in the villages around COP Sigma, said Gagliardi. They were scared off years prior by terrorizing insurgents.
Since the Alpini has secured their area of operations, many villagers have returned.
There are currently about 250 villagers living near COP Sigma, said Gagliardi.
Insurgent attacks against COP Sigma have decreased, but they're still attacked a few times a week.
Insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the COP two days ago, but missed. The Alpini didn't suffer any casualties in the attack.
Though Alpini troops are accustomed to mountain life, COP Sigma still presents challenges.
The troops had been without heat and cooking facilities for the past three days as their gas-powered generator broke. A replacement generator was delivered during the resupply.
When they're not fending off insurgent attacks or fighting the brutal Afghan winter elements, the Alpini troops sometimes face other threats.
“The mountain which COP Sigma was built on is home to lots of spiders and scorpions,” said Gagliardi, explaining that his troops wrapped their tents with a special mesh to keep the insects at bay.
Even with the many challenges of COP life, the soldiers are content with their deployment, and rely on one another for camaraderie and took keep their spirits high.
Corporal Major (equivalent to American E-4) Mezzullo Filomena, the only female soldier at COP Sigma's, said that currently soldiers rotate between COP Sigma and Forward Operating Base Todd very often, which gives all soldiers a chance to wash their clothes and take showers almost every week.
The soldiers continue to work while at FOB Todd.
Filomena prefers to stay on the COP, she said.
“I'm Alpini and like to be on the front line,” said Filomena.
For Filomena, being Alpini means a unity among her brother and sister Alpine soldiers, she said. “I like to be out front – and out here with my friends.”
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This work, Brotherhood unites Alpine Soldiers in Bala Murghab, by SMSgt Kevin Wallace, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.