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History of the Compound

In the bright light of summer and the dim light of winter, every morning men and women of every order and degree cross the threshold of the barracks under the watchful gaze of the bronze effigy of Second Lieutenant Ugo Mara, after whom the building is named. Yet, in the daily flow of life, with the many commitments of the departments housed in the barracks, it is hard for a visitor to stop and think about where this all began. Browsing the historical records of the departments housed in the building, especially the Support Brigade for the (HQ) NRDC-ITA, once the 33rd “Ambrosiano” Logistics Regiment and COMFOP, there is definitely a lack of information.

The first mention of the barracks can be traced to 1885, when the area was used as a shooting range. However, its real history starts in the early 20th century with the growth of aviation. Partly because of the nearby Caproni aircraft factory, this structure came to house a flying school (from 1911). Soon though, as the army needed to modernize, it was turned into an airfield and the base of the 5th Squadron with fighter ace Francesco Baracca.

At the time, the staff sent to Busto Arsizio to prepare the airfield were housed at the Ottolini cotton mill, which was where a young Ugo Maria Carlo Mara worked. Following the outbreak of the First World War, the area was turned into a prison camp in 1915 for servicemen from the Austro-Hungarian forces, including Czech prisoners (Bohemia and Moravia were then under Austro-Hungarian rule). 

Following the creation of the Czechoslovak Army as a forerunner to the formation of the republic, from 1918 to 1920, the base was used as a training camp for the Czechoslovak Legion that fought alongside Italy in the final months of the Great War (as stated in the victory bulletin). It was also subsequently used to train officers for this new army. For a while, the area was used as an army storage facility, but from 1954 the Ugo Mara Barracks hosted numerous departments as the armed forces were in a process of near constant transformation to meet the ever-altering requirements caused by the changing international political and military situation and the country’s alliances. Over time “Mara” has hosted, often by transformation or cloning, bersaglieri and logistic support units.

Modernization work was undertaken from 1986 to 1988 with the construction of two buildings that currently house the Support Regiment for (HQ) NRDC-ITA and the Post HQ, but far more substantial work began in late 2001, with the design and planning for the complex that would become the operational HQ of the Italian Army Corps of NATO. The modern construction, designed to house the NRDC-ITA HQ, was handed over on 4 May 2003, following all the required NATO safety and security checks and ensuring compliance with Italian laws. It is a modern, streamlined structure that is suited to facing operational challenges in synergy with the other NATO HQs.

The actual barracks has had to be altered to meet the continual, growing changes in potential deployment scenarios, in the strategic concepts underlying the use of units, and in the training and exercise requirements for the HQ and linked units. Some of the buildings inherited from the dis- banded 33rd “Ambrosiano” Logistics Regiment, used as parking areas, were turned into multi-purpose training structures with the capacity to house Exercise Control through the creation of a modular structure and permanent options for essential assets. This has brought various benefits, including significant economic and logistics savings.

In recent years, the importance placed on physical efficiency and staff well-being has led to an improved gym, with modern equipment and qualified staff, and to open-air fitness areas that provide more opportunities for personnel at the barracks and their families to enjoy a range of sports. The concept of family is a real source of pride for the barracks, with its capacity to host the families of service personnel, especially those not from Italy.  Today, after more than 20 years from the formation of NRDC-ITA, Mara is a compound that perfectly matches NATO’s standards, helping families to integrate into the community, especially through the Family Support Center, a facility that has proven particularly valuable in recent times. Moreover, in true military fashion, a small 1980’s church provides spiritual support and has a few works by the artist Onofrio Bramante (Milan, 3 August 1926 – Monopoli, 22 June 2000). 

Finally, we should mention a series of projects that aim to redevelop some structures of the Barracks, among which the following deserve mention: 

  • the expansion of the NRDC-ITA Command with the construction of a new building;
  • the newly completed redevelopment of the upper floor of the building that houses the refectory with the establishment of a training center (Montenero Training Center);
  • the renovation of a building that will house the Support Brigade Command with warehouses, armories and accommodation for personnel;
  • the redevelopment of a large area not currently used. 

In the time between distant 1885 and today, the passing of the sands of time has seen the birth and growth of the modern facility that visitors find on leaving the main road to head towards the entrance to the barracks, under the paternal gaze of Second Lieutenant Ugo Mara. It is equally clear the future will bring new changes and new challenges. 

Story by Lt. Col. ITA Army Donato Tesauro 


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