"I Am, I am the Colonel": the life of Carlo Calcagni is a film

(To Giusy Federici)

The film, directed by the director of Ability Channel Michelangelo Gratton, describes the daily life of the colonel in the role of Honor of the Carlo Calcagni Army, his passion for cycling with which he won two gold medals at the para-cycling world championships in 2015, in the Paralympic sports group of Defense and three gold medals at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, the games reserved for military and veterans. And, of course, the therapies, since in 1996, after a mission of peacekeeping in the Balkans for medical evacuation he got sick of heavy metal contamination and then Multiple chemical sensitivity. Hence a series of pathologies, from cardiopathy to Parkinson's, which keeps at bay with a myriad of drugs and with its proverbial mental stubbornness. He is a warrior, Calcagni, a man who loves his children and life, who goes on with a hard face and smile, despite the pain, the daily therapies based on hundreds of pills, dialysis, drip and occasional hospitalizations and interventions in Italy as in England. And above all, he has the pride of being a soldier for whom uniform is honor, it is Patria, it is duty, it is all.

The Chief of Defense Staff, General Claudio Graziano, knew his story thanks to the film and wanted to meet him.

At the first of I am, I am the Colonel, on 13 April at the Palma di Trevignano Romano cinema, there will also be Calcagni. The collection, on a voluntary basis because the colonel will not take a cent, will be donated to a local non-profit association, Lake for everyone, for the construction of a beach equipped and accessible for the disabled on Lake Bracciano. The same for the other places where the film will be screened, Calcagni was clear: voluntary income to be donated to charity.

How did the idea of ​​a docufilm on Carlo Calcagni come about?

È a docufilm of one hour and 20minuti. There are no actors. The director Michelangelo Gratton documents what is my everyday life, the behind the scenes that very few know, the serious problems, clinically proven and verified, then also recognized as dependent on the cause of service. One wonders, how do you get those results that I have achieved over time, with this type of problem. The docufilm shows all this.

We met with Gratton three years ago in a pre-world retreat of the national team of para-cycling. Then he started following me, without my knowledge. Last December he called me, he and his collaborators were going to make a docufilm about my story, believing that it should absolutely be told and made known, "Because you, every day, send an extraordinary message to all those who follow you ...". I, it's true, every day I receive beautiful messages from people who go forward thanks to me. This is the goal of the docufilm, to be able to help or stimulate many other people.

What was the first reaction?

For me that I live my life every day, there could be no director, no writer who could invent a story or a film so incredibly true, where reality surpasses imagination. So I immediately said yes to Gratton. After a few days, he came down with the crew from me in Salento and 5 days were left in my house, 24 hours on 24.

Sharing every moment, from training to therapy, to children?

Sharing everything. Obviously it is not a simple thing to bare one's life, the behind the scenes that I, for all these years, have deliberately hidden, because I have always wanted to show only the positive side of things, of someone who even when he is on dialysis or interventions smile. Everything I do seems incredibly simple, but it is quite natural because it is now part of my life, but it is not at all simple. How to put the Huber needle, a particular needle that, if it is true that I have the permanent implant and therefore I do not pierce the vein to do the daily drip, however I have to pierce my flesh to get inside the implant, all the days and several times a day on those frequent occasions when, precisely because I have a permanent implant and therefore a central venous access which is an open door to the risk of infection, I get septicemia. And when there is septicemia you must also do antibiotic therapy in the vein, with antibiotics of a certain type, of the latest generation, because they are still serious infections, which can even be lethal and therefore, on those occasions, you have to pierce the also plant two or three times in a day. And this is just one of the many everyday things.

Therapy between infusions, dialysis, various medicines ... and pills?

Every day there are about three hundred pills to take and I assure you that it is heavier for me, both from a psychological and physical point of view, throwing them all down during the day rather than doing my dialysis and my four / five hours of drip. Now there is a rejection of the body that, when I swallow, just does not want them. The same rejection of the skin just feels the needle. There is a moment of my mental concentration there to endure that pain too. How can I support 24 hours of incredible pain on 24, because normal painkillers have no effect on me. I have been prescribed pain therapy, with three drugs based on drugs and that, just for sport, I have never started. They were drugs that would have canceled the great mental strength that all the doctors recognize and put in writing in their relationships, strength that allows me to do the training also with 40 of fever or when the pains are so strong and the tiredness so heavy ( among the various syndromes also the chronic fatigue ...). This is also in contrast with what I do during training, where the mental strength takes over which makes me overcome these limits. I always say it, the limits are only mental and I say it just right, tried and tested on my skin.

Does the training detoxify?

If I do not pedal for two days, then I do not sudo - and my sweating is not like that of a normal person, I in my hour and a half of training also throw out 4 liters of fluids and toxins - I'm bad and worse. Sweating I get alkalinized and I get oxygen, because I also need oxygenation of the tissues, I have a respiratory insufficiency for a pulmonary fibrosis and I have also been operated. With the last surgery, I passed the two hundred stitches abundantly. Those are my medals, those that maybe I have not been recognized for the service provided and that instead all the interventions that I had to suffer over time have affected my skin. But the most beautiful medals are those that come to you every day from people who do not owe you anything and who recognize the merits for what you do, for the incitement and the desire to live that you give to others. It's an exchange.

As written, Carlo Calcagni is a soldier, he is not a soldier ...

There is a big difference. I'm glad you noticed it. Yes, I am a soldier. But you know, still wearing the uniform is for me an extra gratification that has its part in my being, in my way of life because, as I also say in the film, for me the uniform is everything. And I'm happy to make my contribution to society anyway, as well as to the Armed Force. Because although I was reformed in 2007 with 100% disability, I returned thanks to the Role of Honor, the possibility that our Ministry of Defense gives us and we are among the few in the world to have this opportunity, upon request to return to service and continue to be useful.

How can we maintain a balance with all the problems and suffering?

Mine is a balance that just a little is enough to make him jump, but in all these years I have always fought. The credit is all of my past, from family education including working in the countryside with my father. And the martial art, therefore the discipline instilled already at the age of five with judo, which I have never left and which has contributed to partly shape my character. Then eight years, from middle school to classical high school, by the Scolopi fathers in Campi Salentina. And, the icing on the cake that definitely formed what I am today, military life. Above all, I underline and claim that I wanted it after winning the competition as an official pupil, it was going to Pisa for three years, among the paratroopers, a thousand kilometers from home. It is clear that I had to be very motivated.

In the film I say: do not forget that I am a man of the Thunderbolt, and this in many cases makes the difference. Then, by profession and because you always want to improve and for me every goal has always been not a point of arrival but a starting point, I won the helicopter pilot competition. So I started to cultivate another extraordinary passion which was flying. With all the specializations in Viterbo, where I then became operational tactical pilot, the Army observer pilot who, once qualified, goes to the operational departments and is ready to do everything necessary, from rescue to reconnaissance, both in the military and in the civil field.

As for civilians, it's something that many do not know ...

When I go around, in schools as elsewhere, to tell my experience, I always stress, because everyone must know, that the military are not, as we are often called, warmongers. Who criticizes them, however, should thank every day, for the fact that they have the military, 24 hours on 24, are ready to help in any way the population, from emergency relief and maybe at night, as I often happened when I was in Pontecagnano, near Salerno, to natural calamities such as earthquakes or floods, to public order. When we were ambushed by Giovanni Falcone, the next day I went to Sicily and stayed there for two years, working with the magistrates and accompanying them to the trials in the bunkers in Marsala, risking all the skin every day. When Paolo Borsellino blew up, I was on his head with the helicopter, I saw the explosion. We military are always on the side of the citizen and we are always ready to save a life. It is gratifying but, at the same time, it is bad to listen to those who criticize you, thinking that the military does not serve and without knowing things.

Many soldiers follow Carlo Calcagni, for some time ...

It is very nice when among those who write to me I find colleagues (many have been my subordinates) and what they tell me excites me. It is one of those medals I told you about that come to you from the people, who do not owe you anything. Because the medal that recognizes the State, the Ministry of Defense, institutions in general, is awarded to you for your merit and so it is right that you are given. In my case, for various vicissitudes, I did not even have a recycled cardboard medal. But then, when you understand how these things work, it is obvious that if nobody offers you, no one will ever be able to give you what you would rightfully claim.

I was recently received by the Chief of Defense, General Claudio Graziano. He called me the day before. I promptly took the first plane and went, because for me it was like an order, because I have always had the utmost respect for my superiors, always and in any case and I have a very strong attachment to the Armed Force and a sense of duty that for it's natural to me.

Can we say better late than never?

As I told General Graziano - who was worried, also because of my condition because I have to organize every trip with my drugs and my therapies and he told me that he hoped not to have made me uncomfortable making me call - I waited for a lifetime this moment and I did not let it slip away. So, in that couple of hours with him - the meeting was scheduled for a few minutes, but then he wanted to know my story well - I could understand that things are rarely referred to those who should know them. This is sometimes the reason why you may feel abandoned, because those who need to know do not know and therefore have no way of doing what should be done. And then, as I said, there are the acknowledgments from people who have met you and for whom you have been an example, as many soldiers in military service under me: at Smipar I terrorized them, today they are for them an example .

This is the difference between being a boss and just commanding, between being authoritative or authoritarian ...

Even my commanders, those of the past, have taught me that formality is fine, but first of all you have to take care of your staff, who cannot be treated as numbers, as simple soldiers. Many claim the rank: I never did. Many reproached me for my confidence with non-commissioned officers, even with conscripts. In Salerno the simple soldiers ate with us officers. And we were often in the gym together in the evenings. But it's not like if you trust them you are no longer the officer and you lose command. You must be respected for who you are, not for the rank you hold. It is obvious that the rank is important, for the role you then go to fill, for the responsibilities that are entrusted to you. But that's not what you make yourself respected with, otherwise you're just abusing it. While, when this role is recognized to you regardless, you will always be respected and when you ask everyone will be willing to give you their best. And the nice thing is that that respect, which in any case was due during the military service, I see today, 30 years later, when they could tell me of all colors.

The meeting with General Graziano, is a kind of "pacification" with the Defense?

That handshake, the Crest that gave me, the photos with him, I guard everything in a jealous way. That handshake recognizes me that identity that I have been looking for all these years. It is obvious, as I told him, I understand that many have used me, have used my history, my condition, to exploit and use it against the Armed Force and therefore, almost, putting me against what is my family and this, in all these years, made me sick. I told him this. This is my family but you can not wait twelve years, from a claim for compensation made in a good way not to go before a judge of a court, while those who treated the practice answered me only after this time. I had an endless wait and patience that, I believe, no one would have had, with an answer from the direction of Military Health, had only a few months ago and with only three lines in which it is written that my question can not be accepted.

A long struggle...

The Armed Force did not have the same respect towards me, I was not even made an "obscene" proposal, then it was up to me whether to accept or not and maybe I, for the quiet life, would have accepted the symbolic euro as well. Because it would have been right to acknowledge that I had sacrificed my life and my health to the Armed Forces. This also I told General Graziano, I told him that if he thought I would put it in writing, that until yesterday I did not think so, but from the moment I was there with him and I got to talk, if they even made me an absurd suggestion, in order to close everything and in harmony, I would accept it.

And, among the things said and those that have made me, not to let me participate in many events, keep me always hidden, someone even allowed to say that I have no respect for the Armed Forces, that I do not show attachment. And this, I told him, I can not accept, no one should afford to question the respect I have for the Armed Force and the attachment I have for the uniform I wear. I proved it with facts.

Surely General Graziano understood this, once he knew it...

I think it was the point where he wanted to know more and I explained a lot 'of things, not least that of the rank of general, since they have denied me the promotion that I was in office from 1 2013 January. The role of honor admits four promotions, I had made only two, from lieutenant colonel to colonel. In the role of honor do not go to the evaluation, when the day comes the promotion starts, which does not involve any cost for the administration because the pension does not change. But the doctor who handles these practices told me that I could not be promoted because in my role as a provenance, a special role because I was not from the Academy but I started from the complement, the degree of general is not foreseen.

It's hard to believe ...

It is. But the manager commands and what he says is law. He invited me to appeal. As I explained to you before, the degree in itself does not interest me, but if one thing rightfully deserves it I would be granted and it would also be an important moral recognition. So I immediately made an extraordinary appeal to the President of the Republic, more than five years have passed, in the 2013 I would have been one of the youngest generals in Italy and yet I'm still waiting for an answer, I do not know what happened to the appeal. Keep in mind that, among therapies, surgeries, etc, I have so many commitments and other priorities that figured if I can be behind the promotion as a general, as it was for the 12 years of waiting for compensation, years spent empty. But who is treating the practice and I must answer that it can not be accepted, needs 12 years to tell me? Or should I think they're waiting for one to take off the boxes? You can not keep a request thrown somewhere for 12 years because it is that of Calcagni, you can not answer that it is not up to me when the others promote them. But I wanted to close the question peacefully. Thus General Graziano, knowing the story, wanted to know Carlo Calcagni in person. Because on paper they have always described me in one way, but then again, it is normal, because they have always put me against the system.

Is there a reference to someone in particular?

I am referring to many of your fellow journalists. How much agitation I have had for articles full of inaccuracies and lies ... Without even asking the problem of asking you something, of asking me. Starting with the first thing that makes you feel, for example that Calcagni is sick from depleted uranium. But who is talking about uranium? Here we talk about everything, except uranium. My service case is for "heavy metal contamination", now officially documented. Many wrote about me only when they had an interest in creating controversy against the Ministry of Defense. And I have always paid the consequences. I let it go, but that's enough.

The film highlights man, values, being an example for others, because a message must arrive, as it should be.

A film that is the story of a life ...

It is my story. It is obvious that in my story there is also the soldier and, sorry if it is little, there is everything I have done and it is a lot and there is also the disease, for which we do not talk about why, but how, today this man faces such a difficult problem and despite everything he continues to smile at life, to play sports, to aim for important goals, to those goals that allow you to face therapies, interventions, dialysis and excruciating pain every day. But if all of this allows me to still enjoy my children's smiles or go to Invictus in Australia from 17 to 29 October 2018, then let's do it. Do you know how many times I've had the urge to drop everything and let me go? Instead, also for what I represent for so many people, for the young people in whom I see my children and whose response is splendid, I find the strength and move forward.