The 9th Assault Parachute Regiment, also known as “Col Moschin,” is the most elite regiment of the Italian Army. The men comprising that unit receive the most complex and difficult training of any in the army. Recently, with the establishment of COMFOSE, the Italian Army general staff tried to transfer some of Col Moschin’s capabilities to other special units. Despite this, the 9th remains unique; to this day, its operators remain the best trained, and what they do has no equal in other regiments.
To become a Col Moschin Raiders (Incursore), it takes many years of drill, combined with an iron will and a trained body. The Special Forces Training Department (Reparto Addestramento Forze Speciali – RAFoS) is the starting point for all those who want to enter the 9th. Candidates must have at least three years of experience in the army and nearly all of have an operational mission under their belt. After three weeks of training, where the drill instructors test the potential of the recruits, the future operator enters the Special Operator’s Basic Course (OBOS – Operatore Basico Operazioni Speciali).
The OBOS path lasts five months. During this time, the student learns how to behave and move in a hostile environment. Above all, the student acquires the knowledge needed to accomplish patrol, combat, and reconnaissance operations. At the end of this first phase, the aspirant enters a second, more intense training cycle where he discovers the planning and implementation of the Special Operations Detachment’s missions: direct action, reconnaissance, and special military assistance. At this time, the students begin to embrace what it means to be a Special Forces incursore and fight behind enemy lines.
Special Forces education
With the basic coursework complete, the men of the 9th Col Moschin enter the Special Forces Combat Course (23 weeks) and the Advanced Combat Course (five weeks). At this point, the regiment’s instructors begin to get a general idea of who really has the character and strength to withstand a mission. The operators of the 9th Col Moschin are all normal guys, not superman—they don’t eat special food or look any different from other young people who walk the streets wearing a baseball cap and an iPod.
But they have chosen to sacrifice their lives according to their ideals, which will keep them away from their families for years. These guys have chosen a lifestyle where boredom and phrases like “I don’t know what to do” don’t exist. They have the honor of entering into a very openhearted, close-knit family, but one with strict rules. Within the 9th Regiment, there aren’t places for the egocentric, only for those who selflessly put their skills at the disposal of their team.
The Special Forces Combat Course lasts 23 weeks and gives the fundamentals for planning special operations at the operational-detachment level. For the first two weeks, soldiers attend lectures on theoretical procedures—NATO (Military Decision-Making Process). After the quiet always comes the storm: After these lectures, it’s time to face the terrible three-week-long S.E.R.E.—one of the most difficult tests, and one in which the dropout rate is very high. The stress to which the candidates are subjected takes them to the limits of human endurance. All the simulations are conducted under the watchful eye of trainers who know exactly how far they can go.
Once the S.E.R.E.’s “torture” is complete, aspirant incursori can start the explosives and sabotage course. The next step is the combat-medic instruction that trains the students to deal with any medical emergency on the battlefield, followed by a course for the use of radio equipment. Each Special Forces operator should be able to use all technology available, but must also know how to work without technical support.
The Advanced Combat Course (five weeks) is a stage of improvement on what was learned during the basic course. In particular, students learn how to use all the weapons existing in any operating environment.
The second year is devoted to so-called “acclimatization” training. This includes a ski and mountaineering course (Alpine Combat Training Centre – Aosta), amphibian course, parachuting course with H.A.H.O. (High Altitude High Opening) and H.A.L.O. (High Altitude Low Opening) instruction, and combat-diver qualification (the training is 12-weeks long and is held in the barracks of the Italian Navy commandos – COMSUBIM in La Spezia).
Other courses are conducted abroad, preceded by an appropriate English-language advanced course held at the Army’s Foreign Languages School (Perugia). Most of these courses are held at the NATO International Special Forces Training Center based in Pfullendorf, Germany.
One thing must be clear: a Special Forces operator never stops training. Being awarded a brevet (a patch with an eagle, anchor, and parachute) is only the beginning of a journey that becomes a real philosophy of life.
– Esercito Italiano – 9th Regiment “Col Moschin”.
– P. Palumbo, Lacrime, sudore e sangue, in “Tactical News Magazine”, n.22, p. 60-73.
– A. Scarpitta, RAFoS: dove nascono gli incursori, in “Analisi Difesa”, n. 133, Novembre 2012.
Photos courtesy: 9th Regiment “Col Moschin”, Marco Alberini, Paolo Palumbo.