Local nationals keep Aviano flying

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sarah Gregory
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Keeping an air base functioning takes a lot of hard work and commitment from its members. Working alongside their military counterparts, local national employees are often the behind-the-scenes support to Aviano’s mission.

“We have about 600 local nationals here working across the military spectrum in everything, from transportation management and mechanics to firefighters and administrative support,” said Ken Watson, 31st Mission Support Group deputy commander.

Whether they’re part-time or full-time employees, Aviano’s civilians provide stability to Aviano and carry on its objectives when military members deploy.

“I see the overtime requests come across my desk on a weekly basis and [local nationals] are working long hours just like everyone else,” said Mr. Watson. “They work even longer hours when there are deployments. Deployments place additional burdens on these folks; work still has to be done by the people left behind.”

Although local nationals don’t deploy, their contributions to the war on terrorism doesn’t go unnoticed by Aviano members.

“They’re the lifeline of Aviano. Generally military people deploy and without the civilians’ help, we wouldn’t function,” said Master Sgt. Rene Vandenheuvel, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle fleet manager. “Working closely with Italians also gives us a chance to learn about a unique culture and its people.”

In addition to carrying the extra work load from deployed members, Mr. Watson said civilians also provide much needed continuity to Aviano.

“We expect these folks to be masters of their trade and we rely on them for the expertise and continuity they provide in their career fields,” he said. “They know why we do things a certain way at a certain time and with military folks coming and going in a fairly short period of time, they pass that knowledge along.”

Using civilian employees also builds relations with the off-base community and helps the Air Force save money.

“One of the benefits the host nation has for us being here is that we provide employment to the local populace,” Mr. Watson said. “And one thing the local national work force gives us is an affordable option to PCSing one of our own folks here. For instance, the vehicles in the motor pool are European cars such as Fiats and Opals. Military members typically don’t have that kind of expertise [to fix foreign vehicles], nor would we want to pull that expertise all the way over here.”

Even though they don’t put on a uniform to come to work, the local national employees realize they are a part of the Aviano team.

“We know there are differences between the military and civilians, but we work hard together with our military friends every day and we enjoy the work we do and the time spent here,” said Luciano Fabbro, a 31st Civil Engineer Squadron electrician. “If we chose to work for an Italian company, we would be losing an opportunity to learn about the American way of life and the American military.”

Instead of letting the differences in culture and background divide them, local nationals and military members seem to have found by learning about each other, they can overcome their differences.

“I feel very good about being part of Aviano. It’s a unique experience working with the Americans because the way they work is so different from Italians,” said Luciano Geronutti, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle and equipment civilian supervisor. “They definitely focus more on safety measures. Before beginning any job, we take a look around for safety concerns and this is something that the Italians are just starting to incorporate into the workplace.”

Mr. Geronutti also pointed out that getting around the language barrier is about compromise.

“For some of the civilians communicating is hard because they don’t speak English, but we are picking up the day-to-day words used on the job and the Americans are learning some Italian.”