Up until the early 90’s in Italy it was mandatory for young Italian males to “serve the country” for one year of their lives.
My call arrived in the spring of 1984. I was forced, unless I wanted to go to jail, to temporarily stop my creative work with photography and music to “fulfill my duty.”
A few months earlier, knowing that such call would soon come, I decided to apply for becoming an officer which would have extended my service time for three months but would give me the opportunity to make some money. In fact if an aspiring officer would manage to make it through the first six months of brain washing and heavy physical training he would have gained with the officer grade and its responsibilities a monthly salary for the last 10 months of obligatory service.
This appeared to me the best way to face this unwanted experience which alternatively would have been in my opinion a complete waste of my time. At least I would end up with some money, I thought, which I could use for producing music.
In the early April of that same year I arrived at the district I was assigned to in a small town not far from Rome called Cesano which was the military school where new young men would be trained for six months in order to be “prepared for war.”
I remember entering the military building hearing the sound of the gate closing behind me.
I knew that that sound was the sign of the beginning of a very intense 15 months of madness.
Upon my arrival I was put in line in an attention position next to other hundreds of people still in civilian clothing. We rapidly where shaved, undressed and made to scream out loud hundreds of times our names followed by our rank and another long list of names of logistics and military terminology. Every time we would make a mistake in repeating our new mantra we would have to either run or do push ups. After a few long hours of such introduction they assigned us to our new rooms and instructed us on the new style of living. We then were medically inspected, interrogated about our general information, asked if we were gay, vaccinated, and a new training uniform was given.
The general ideas conveyed were that we now were about to finally become “men” which meant an individual that is completely obedient to his “superiors” and that does as he is told without questioning orders. A man was also an individual that never shows any kind of emotion or weakness.
A man was an individual who was ready to give his life for his country and would be ready to kill enemies. A man would not think for himself but only execute the order given. He will absolutely respect (fear) and obey his superiors.
The communication was delivered mostly through screaming and the learning would occur through a dominant and macho attitude.
The months that followed were filled with all kinds of abusiveness called “training” and an intense curriculum of brain washing and heavy physical challenges.
As soon as I began such an experience I decided that the best way to go through it was to apply what I learned during my acting classes, to become the character. Therefore I “became” a soldier by entering fully into the character and I started to live fully his script. In this way I had a sort of a double identity within my structure. The outside character who was a tough fearless soldier and the inside one which was the real me positioning himself as a neutral observer never loosing the connection with his core.
With this attitude I “appeared” to the unconscious mind male related military individual and to the environment a “good soldier” managing at the same time to maintain a balance inside.
I will not indulge in all the details of my training experience, however I will say that those months were in many ways very unpleasant and completely unnatural with the core of my being. I do have however very intensely beautiful memories of those harsh and difficult times.
I remember the strong bond that was rapidly established amongst our team. I remember the beautiful full moon in the wide open space of the Tolfa valleys while laying down in total stillness with a machine gun waiting for the order to shoot far in the distance, a silhouette of fake enemies.
Somehow I was able to make it through the six months training and I became an officer. I was then assigned to a district in the city of Orvieto where I would become a trainer myself and basically do what was done to me to others.
For the next 10 months at the beginning of the month I would receive a group of about 300 civilian young men and had one month to prepare them for war.
In those circumstances too I would play my character and script, however sometimes, when I would notice some of the trainees having some serious emotional break down. At that point I would lose completely the harshness of the “tough officer character” and in private reassure him that everything would be fine and all that he was experiencing was just a weird absurd play that we were all forced to do and that it would eventually, with a little bit of patience, come to an end.
Also as I would progress into the last week of the month, time in which my training was coming to a conclusion, I would start to lose the harsh and military colorful expression “character” and start to establish a more “human” behavior towards “my men” which was often taking everyone by pleasant surprise. The last day of training would be the day of the Oath in which the new army would have to march in front of either the president or the prime minster of Italy. All the parents, relatives, girlfriends and wives would come to the celebration day and assist with the ceremony after which the military would be given a 10 day break (license) before being assigned to their new district. In that day I would completely break loose my character and simply hug and congratulate everyone. Tears and gratitude were fully expressed as they realized that after all I was not such a tough and insensitive officer and certainly more human and compassionate then others. This would fill my heart with joy and love.
By the end of the 10 months I had trained about 3000 people. To this days I still have some who write me and remember me. Some of them still call me “Tenente” (officer).