"We are a small enclave, we are a family, we grow inside the same school and we recognize ourselves there. Even those who leave, however, are proud of the time spent here. And it is nice to recognize oneself even outside, because one is never ex, one remains parachutists forever ".
Colonel Alessandro Borghesi is the commander of the Training Center for Parachuting in Pisa. The paratroopers of all the Armed Forces and the Police, not only of the brigade thunderbolt, are formed here. Including the Special Forces of each Weapon.
The CAPAR is the thunderbolt, but also the mother and the father of parachuting, from the procedure that takes the boys to the first aviolanci, prepared in the gym by excellent and motivating instructors, up to the Military Sports Parachuting Section, where names like Giuseppe Tresoldi and Paolo Filippini give the idea of the very high level that is reached here. Many activities have been carried out, from the course scanned in modules for young aspiring paratroopers, to the Simulation center, to the parachute-folding center, from the department that takes care of launching materials and equipment, for all Armed Forces at home and at the abroad, up to the MCM (Military Combat Method, ed) and much more. Not forgetting the Aviotruppe museum, another flagship of the thunderbolt, of Pisa and Italy. All excellences of the Army and the Armed Forces, where nothing is left to chance.
A recognized institutionally, given that last May 8, during the celebrations for the 158 years of the establishment of the Italian Army, the Skydiving Training Center was awarded the Bronze Medal for the Value of the Army, "... Summary of noble military virtues, over the years it has strengthened the prestige of Italy and the honor of the Army. National and foreign territory, 1949 - 2017 ", we read between the reasons.
I was lucky enough to be able to observe these men and women for a long time, visit where and how they work, share the cafeteria and even some training.
With the commander Borghesi, we took stock of the values and challenges that drive a boy to join the ranks of thunderbolt. And the sense of honor and belonging that the paratroopers have, yesterday as today.
When the students arrive here, what I always say is that, fundamentally, our task, rather than paratroopers hurling themselves from the airplane, is to train citizens aware of their role. Because being military is one of the highest responsibilities. I like our story, which I always refer to. In the 'corsus honorum' of the ancient Romans, for example, in order to enter the political world and society in general, military service had to be provided. You had to be willing to shed blood for the Fatherland.
These of today are boys who do not always come with real ideals formed, but come here to do a job that, tomorrow, could lead them to sacrifice their lives to defend the nation, what we therefore try to do here is to form conscious citizens of this. Skydiving is not throwing oneself off an airplane but a lifestyle, it is always living to the fullest, knowing that to do things there is no one right way. This costs effort.
We have asked ourselves several times if we should lower the standards of our training, but we have always come to the conclusion that it was not the case, because we intend to maintain a high level. The level of physical preparation of young Italians today is already lower than in the past. We have changed our training system, from a process that was highly selective to one, today, aimed at training: I take you by the hand and guide you through all the various steps. We have also modified the programs, which today are built in modules, and if a boy does not exceed one he can repeat it, we are less draconian. What we provide is the key with which they will somehow overcome obstacles. Those we impose on ourselves.
So more mental than physical obstacles?
Day after day they reach the breaking point but pass it. And the next day, they aim for a higher goal. And they exceed it! With the help of the instructors and with the knowledge that, basically, wanting is power. This is what the instructor teaches them.
The boys manage to reach goals that, at the beginning of the course, they thought were unattainable. It is a long, arduous journey, but one that leads to shaping the character of the military. We do not have superhumans, which however do not exist. As a young lieutenant they taught me a saying that said we have the best soldiers in the world because the parachutist believes he can do everything ... And we have the best and most motivating officers and non-commissioned officers that exist in the Army, precisely because they have the best soldiers of the world. But the officer must know that even the best soldier in the world dies like everyone else. And it is therefore important to be able to preserve and manage them correctly.
Colonel Borghesi, you talk about forming citizens. But many still call you warmongers ...
Whoever calls the "warmongering" soldier, besides saying a terrible thing, has understood nothing about us! Probably the "mercenary" the warmonger ...
The soldier, the one who saw what war means, cannot be a warmonger. I lived a period in which we left on a mission almost every day, I started with Somalia and I never stopped. I commanded a reconnaissance platoon in Somalia in the middle of the desert, where the radios were not as modern as today and there was the saying "I see you but I can't hear you ...". Those who know war, who know what conflicts lead to, cannot love war. The military is the most pacifist.
We soldiers know what the risk is and therefore, basically, our task is to preserve the safety of the people and safeguard our men, because for us officers they are the most precious asset. A commander does not exist unless his men are there.
I am proud of what I do, I was born here as a draft parachutist, then I went to the Academy and I went all the way as an officer, but I was born as a soldier and I remember these squares here well. Going back to the end of my career, to be a commander, is an incredible satisfaction, because my experience as platoon commander, as a company, as a battalion, etc., I need to convey to the younger boys what I learned. It's exciting for me.
How do today's kids respond to the transmission of certain values?
Today's kids are different. We were more free-range, we played toy soldiers and forts, we climbed trees, those of today have different interests ... let's say that on a motor level they are a little awkward compared to what we were. These guys might find themselves having to respond to an attack tomorrow. It happened to me to find myself in situations of firefight and it is not that you expect it, you find it! Therefore, it would not be correct for boys not to prepare them. I tell them that the sacrifice and the sweat that today we make "spend" is not for us, it is for themselves.
Here, at each training course for young paratroopers we combine a godfather, usually a veteran, with the final ceremony. Of course the parents also come, and it's a great thing when they tell you that the boy grew up, that he became aware of himself, that he is mature, that maybe he is cleaning at home ... they seem nonsense, instead it is a sign of change.
If we "gave" something, just because it was a gift would have no value. We don't offer discounts here. However, as I said, we are able to get results. The key is all in their head, the capacity is in there, nothing is missing. They have 20 years, at 20 years the world breaks! Basically, the problem is only related to not believing in one's possibilities.
The CAPAR forms all the Italian military paratroopers ...
I am fortunate to still have a small group of instructors, because they are now retiring. As long as we have these experiences and skills we will certainly be at the forefront. The CAPAR is the school that forms the paratroopers of the whole Defense, not only those of the Folgore brigade. We train the paratroopers who will go to the Special Forces, those of the Police, the Navy, etc.
I believe deeply in my boys and I am proud of them. I think this is one of the most important moments in their lives. If we start badly here and sow a crooked seedling, then it will grow crooked.
Here General Carlo Mautino, fresh from El Alamein, carried the flag of the Institute, the 16 June of the 1957. But it also brought the spirit and traditions of the paratroopers, which have been the case since the specialty was formed. And we fight to ensure that these traditions are not lost.
You are very close to the population, from help in natural disasters to Safe Roads. Once with Pisa there was no good relationship ...
Many decades ago, when the Army was not yet trained by professionals, there were sometimes disagreements between conscripts and citizens. Now with the city of Pisa we have an excellent relationship: both with the junta of now, center right, and with the previous one, which was center-left. The new mayor, like the previous one, came with us to the flag-raising ceremony and stayed for lunch. With the city there is a strong sense of belonging. But this happened, slowly, from the moment we had professionals and, consequently, the soldiers live inside Pisa, they are part of the social fabric of the city and therefore a different relationship has been created. And Pisa, somehow, has lost that mistrust, which has gradually diminished since we learned to open the barracks to the city.
All machines thunderbolt and paratroopers in general are often given a political position far to the right. And yet, you've contributed a lot to the Liberation struggle. A name for all, the paràs of the nimbus, in Filottrano and not only ...
I have an excellent relationship with the president of the Partisan National Association, Anpi, of Pisa. But we have conquered this relationship day by day, because it was not so before. We began to bring him here, to explain him, to tell him the story as it was and to participate in their initiatives.
Two years ago at the 25 April celebrations the contribution of the partisans and the interned soldiers was remembered. And not only the interned soldiers were remembered, but also the soldiers of the Liberation Corps, who fought.
The real partisan war was born after the 8 September, when it was enriched by all the soldiers who, with experience of war, became part of the various Resistance groups. Many paratroopers have become famous partisans.
General Li Gobbi, former commander of the Folgore brigade and gold medal, was a partisan. He was huddled by the Americans behind enemy lines, organized and trained a partisan group and fought with them. Or the commander Alessi, of the 1 Carabinieri paratroopers battalion that fought and was destroyed at Eluet El Asel, also a parachutist and then found himself fighting infiltrated behind the lines and organizing partisan groups.
From the Italian Liberation Corps the backbone of the new Army started when the king, at a certain point, asked General Alexander to reconstitute the fighting Italian troops: the Italians were initially used only to transport the means and provisions while they wanted to fight too and participate in the honor of Italy. The English at first were reluctant, then gave the ok. The motorized battalion was fielded in Montelungo, they saw that the Italians were fighting and in the end it was necessary to build a larger unit. We had the chance to rebuild an Army, but many units were in disarray, except those that had a greater tradition and spirit of Corps. The units of the paratroopers, precisely because of their formation and sense of belonging, remained intact. When the commander of the Italian Corps Umberto Utili searched for still functioning and operational units, the paratroopers were one of the greatest realities that had remained ready to fight.
On that structure, the division nimbus, then the Italian Liberation Corps was formed ...
Italian Corps of Liberation which, from the south, reached Bolzano. We must be proud that the Italian paratroopers are a part of Italy that has responded almost choral to the call to arms for the liberation of Italy.
The president of the ANPI of Pisa wrote a beautiful letter, the day of the commemoration of an 25 April, in which he paid tribute to ours, to the paratroopers who fought and died, Italian citizens, young people, who died and who are been forgotten. It is a beautiful letter.
And there is another, equally beautiful, where at some point, after the war, General Paolo Berardi, former Chief of Staff of the Royal Army from 1943 to 1945, writes in the 1944 to General Umberto Utili, who was the commander of the Italian Liberation Corps speaking also of General Giorgio Morigi, commander of the Nembo division.
"Dear Useful, I saw your July 15 agenda published in newspapers in praise of the Nembo. Given the circumstances it is unfortunately not possible to do the same in an official way. I also wish that it should reach the Nembo and the other troops of the Italian Liberation Corps - and above all the Commanders - not only the repetition of a praise but above all this thought of mine: You still do not know what greatness of service you have rendered to Italy with your efforts uninterrupted and with copious blood shed. I hope that one day not far away I can tell you. Continue to the head of the Italians which you are today. To you and to Morigi, who - with your active and silent work, raise the honor and the ability of the Italian general scorners, my affectionate greeting and the expression of gratitude from the Army. ". (it is the text of Berardi's letter, ed).
It is incredible that a man, already at that moment, realizes and should almost whisper: "I tell you good, but I can't tell you publicly because right now you can't". And those men died for it. I am of the opinion that today this can and must be said. We must be proud of ALL this tradition: of El Alamein, of having been part of the reconstituted Army and of having been in the Thunderbolt. Who can boast a "pedigree" like ours? And are we going to disperse our ideals? There is none for anyone! Our ideals are indestructible.
As long as we base our youth training on these ideals, we can only have excellent Italians. Because we fundamentally form Italians!
Photo: Daniele Mencacci / Roberta Arcuri / author / Army