NARVIK, Norway --
NARVIK, Norway – During a routine exercise in Norway, turned reunion, two friends that were separated by years and countries were brought back together on a ship in the Arctic Circle. This friendship began when U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Nicholas Westley attended The Basic School (TBS) back in spring of 2016, where he met Italian Lt. Niccolo Sammartino.
Sammartino was selected by his home country of Italy to participate in a foreign officer exchange alongside Marine Corps officers in TBS.
The chance to be a foreign exchange officer was a unique opportunity for Sammartino, he said. His time at TBS was a dream that came true.
“I had always seen the U.S. Marine Corps as the pinnacle fighting force and it was an incredible experience having the opportunity to train alongside them,” said Sammartino. “The greatest honor was to consider myself one of them and I fully embraced the adventure of it all.”
The foreign exchange program prepares officers to work with other partner nations in the future and rarely get to work with their old peers from the program.
During Exercise Cold Response 2022, the 2nd MEB Commanding General and his staff were tasked to fill the role of the Commander, Landing Forces (CLF), on the ITS Garibaldi, where Westley served as the Staff Judge Advocate. Sammartino was the company commander for the San Marco Brigade, the Italian Marine unit that served as part of the landing forces assigned to the CLF for the exercise.
The unlikely was a reality and the two former classmates instantly recognized each other from across the hanger bay and greeted each other.
“I thought there may be an off chance of running into Nic and when I saw his tall frame towering over the other Italians in woodland camouflage, I knew it was him,” Westley said. “We shared a quick ‘hi’ before his company left for cold weather training, but we were able to catch up when they returned.”
The two quickly picked up their friendship where it left off back in 2016. They both belonged to the same company and platoon while at TBS and reminisced on memories of their struggles and triumphs of being a winter company.
They joked that the winters of Virginia had prepared them well for Norway, but this time they had more warming layers to wear.
Westley said that Sammartino was great at hiking and always volunteered to carry the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon), while Sammartino said he remembered Westley as a huge guy who was always making everyone laugh.
Exchange programs have proven to be beneficial for sharing knowledge, training and experiences that strengthen our relations with our NATO partners and allies. These exchanges have deepened friendships amongst nations, and the friendship between Westely and Sammartino is one of many from the program.
Sammartino’s knowledge and experience working and training alongside U.S. Marines allowed him to effectively plan, communicate and execute operations in a variety of environments. He said, that having the same basic knowledge that all U.S. Marines Corps Officers have, came in handy during Cold Response. Being able to communicate in a shared tactical language, the way he learned at TBS, allowed Sammartino to effectively articulate information to 2nd MEB staff.
The comradeship that militaries develop from working together is a foundation to a strong partnership. If there ever is a NATO response, it won’t be as separate nations, but as one cohesive team. Exchange programs and international exercises are the opportunities that allow us to develop an impenetrable alliance rooted in the strength of countless individual friendships.