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Pearls of the Mediterranean: Naples, Italy.

For centuries, Naples' central location in both Italy and the Mediterranean has made it a center of trade, travel and culture. From ancient times to today, a visit to ancient Pompeii, a row through the blue grotto on the island of Capri or a climb up Mt. Vesuvius have been enticing experiences for visitors. For members of the U.S. military community at Naples, Italy, those "once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are easy weekend trips.

While Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples has been saddled with a reputation for quality-of-life challenges, these days, all that's changing. With its multi-year improvement project nearing completion, NSA Naples has been resuscitated. Napoli, a derivative of the Greek Neopolis means "new city;" and Naples--the new city--has a new reputation.

Having moved its activities from its previous location in Agnano's crater, (with its exposed sulfur vent), NSA Naples now boasts an east side locale with a view. Overlooking the city of Naples, NSA now enjoys a view of Mt. Vesuvius and shares facilities with its new neighbor on Naples' east side, Capodichino airport.

Choices of duty in Naples are plentiful. NSA Naples' facilities support more than 100 tenant commands in the Naples area, supporting missions of U.S. and NATO aircraft, command administration and communication support for the nearly 3,000 people who work at Capodichino.

"It's improved as far as quality of life for the Sailors," said Yeoman 1st Class Jeanice Vitali, who first served a tour of duty in Naples in the early 1990s. "It's just much cleaner and more family-oriented than before. It's a much better place to be stationed now."

Vitali's husband, Cryptologist Technician 3rd Class Jim Vitali, agrees that Naples duty has improved. "It's a lot different now," he said. "I think the driving is better. The police are better--everything like that. They're definitely up to speed to where we are in the United States."

New housing and support facilities have been built on the edge of the Campania region's farmlands, a 20-minute drive north-east of Capodichino at the U.S. Navy Support Site in Gricignano. With more than 800 units for family housing, the support site is also home to the Department of Defense Dependent Schools elementary and high schools, where children have the opportunity to experience a safe and productive learning environment. The site also houses Naval Hospital Naples and many more support services that offer improved quality of life.

"When I first got here, it was my first duty station, so I didn't know what to expect," said YNSN Kevin Braga, a Naples Security Force member now on year three of his Naples tour. "When I first came here to Gricignano, there was no hospital. There were housing complexes, but it was nowhere near the size it is now. It's beautiful now. It's like paradise. There's a whole new landscape that you can see from miles away. It's the only place in Naples that has this much light [at night]."

Central to the support site and the construction project, the Naples Improvement Initiative, a new four-story Navy Lodge greets newcomers to Naples with state-of-the-art facilities and consolidated convenience, alleviating the need to make separate trips to shop at the exchange, the commissary or even process a vehicle.

Soon, shopping, vehicle processing, schools--in fact almost all support services will be within walking distance of one another, as well as the Navy Lodge, an important factor for those transitioning in or out of the community with few transportation options. A regular shuttle bus connects the support site with all other military facilities in Naples.

The support site was built above an ancient Roman crossroad. Although Italian historical preservation laws forbid the building of structures above such remains, the construction of roads above the Roman roads is permissible. A hand-laid brick walkway now bisects the support site, covering the Roman roadway. A well that provided water to the road's travelers is preserved on the ground floor of what is now Naval Hospital Naples.

In addition to newer, centrally located facilities, the base's educational community has been able to use new college programs to expand opportunities to pursue a college degree in Naples. Both resident and visiting professors offer flexible programs that make earning a degree on active duty possible. Last year, more than 140 students from the Naples military community earned their degrees, ranging from associates to graduate degrees.

But schooling for adults is not all to weigh when considering education in Naples. Both the elementary and high schools bus students from throughout the Naples and neighboring Gaeta areas. Many families also take the opportunity to enroll their youngsters in Italian pre-school.

"The key to enjoying a successful tour lies in remembering that living in italy is not like living in the United States," said Journalist 1st Class Eileen Kelly-Fors. "Housing and apartments are constructed differently; electric power and utilities are different; shopping and driving are different; the pizza and the coffee are different."

Quality-of-life improvements, both in facilities and service, have provided duty in Naples with a new face. That is not to imply that duty in Naples--even with its face-lift--isn't without its challenges.

Language barriers, cultural differences, limited spouse employment opportunities and relative isolation from life and family in the United States are issues shared by many overseas assignments. Additionally, new facilities make it possible to remain isolated within the American military community. It's possible to work, live and shop entirely on U.S. facilities, but to do so would be to miss rare cross-cultural opportunities that serve a foundation for a successful overseas experience.

For Kelly-Fors, one of the most interesting aspects of a Naples tour are the Neapolitans themselves.

"Neapolitans have a character all their own. They constantly talk using arm and hand movements that animate their conversations and emphasize viewpoints," she said. "You may often feel that you're in the middle of a family quarrel or a comic opera while ordering morning coffee."

"You can't beat it," said Jim Vitale who chose to live off base in the Italian community. "I mean you can see it, and we have the pictures to prove it. Look at how we are living here. We have our two children here; we have beautiful neighbors and our landlords are awesome."

Braga, who plays in a soccer league with Italian teammates agrees and recommends an attempt at basic Italian as a first step. "The Italians will always help you. If you deal with them and expect them to speak only English, they'll be a little hesitant. When you try to work with them in Italian, they'll help you along.

True to its name, the "new city" of Naples inspires envy in visitors who are not assigned; surprises previously assigned visitors; and extends a welcoming hand to those ready for the unique challenges and rewards of their first assignment in Naples.

Slater is the managing editor for All Hands.
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Author:Slater, James
Publication:All Hands
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:May 1, 2004
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