SIGONELLA, Sicily — Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella kicked off a celebration June 12 to commemorate 50 years of cooperation and friendship between the U.S. Navy, Italy and the Italian Air Force 41st Stormo.
NAS Sigonella was founded as Naval Air Facility Sigonella during the peak of the Cold War in 1959 with the purpose of serving as a support hub for aircraft transiting through the Mediterranean area.
"For the last fifty years, through war and peace, Sigonella has made immeasurable contributions to our common defense," said Rear Adm. David J. Mercer, commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia, commander, Maritime Air Naples, who spoke about the prominent role the base has played in naval operations throughout Europe and Asia.
"As we look forward, it's crucial that our alliance remain intact and that Sigonella remain in place. The future of Sigonella is bright. Continued U.S. presence with the possibility of an increased NATO footprint ensures that Sigonella will continue to be the 'Hub of the Med' and beyond," said Mercer.
More than 200 U.S. and Italian military personnel and civilians attended the ceremony, including several former commanding officers of Sigonella and several local nationals who were founding members of the base.
"The Sicilian people have welcomed us into their homeland, they've welcomed us into their homes and they've welcomed us into their hearts," said Capt. Thomas J. Quinn, commanding officer, NAS Sigonella. "That is what has made NAS Sigonella happen."
Italian Air Force Col. Luca Tonello, commanding officer, 41st Stormo, noted the strong sense of community as the reason Sigonella evolved into the base it is today, and he looks forward to building on that relationship in the future.
"I can still feel the same spirit of collaboration and cooperation that the founding members of Sigonella felt during that time," Tonello said.
Italian founding members of the base were also recognized with "Plank Owner" plaques to commemorate their contribution to the birth of Sigonella. Traditionally, "Plank Owners" are founding crew members of naval vessels, which entitles them to one of the original wooden planks in the main deck when a ship is decommissioned.
During the ceremony Quinn, Tonello and Mercer unveiled a bronze plaque to commemorate the anniversary.
The plaque reads, "Dedicated on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of U.S. Naval Air Station, Sigonella, Sicily. Possible due to the enduring alliance of the Republic of Italy and the United States of America partners for peace."
NAS Sigonella provides logistical support for Commander, 6th Fleet and NATO forces in the Mediterranean area.