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Overcoming Adversity: How an Italian Became a Special Tactics Operator

Sometimes in order to achieve one’s goal in life, one has to overcome a great deal of adversity and life lessons to do so. No one appreciates this more than Master Sgt. Stefano Guadagnuolo, a Special Tactics operator assigned to the 125th Special Tactics Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. His teammates prefer to call him G for short.

G grew up in the town of Piacenza, Italy in an 80 person condominium, where there was an ‘army of kids’ for playing and snowball fights. Italians are used to being very social, it’s a cultural thing, said G. Every weekend is a celebration and you don’t have to walk far to be with friends and family.

He attended college in Parma and at the age of 18 he was drafted into the Italian Army as a Mountain’s Troop Officer, where he served for two and a half years. After going back to Parma for college, he decided it was time to venture out and try something new. He ended up in Costa Rica to be a diver, and from there travelled to Honduras for a year to become a Dive Master as an underwater tour guide. G met many American friends there vacationing who told him he should come to the states, so he sold all of his scuba gear and flew to Houston.

After arriving in the U.S., he toured the country for a while eventually ending up in San Diego, again as a Dive Master on a boat. He remembered how he always wanted to join the Air Force’s Combat Control career field because he learned about them during his time as an Italian officer, but he couldn’t get a security clearance at the time. Air Force recruiters told him to join the Marines or the Army to get jump and dive certified and then try again. He then joined the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry, and ended up with an Army Ranger contract.

“I had only been in the states for less than a year when I joined the Army, so I had to pick up English very quickly,” said G. “The American culture is very different from Italy, also. Everyone is so spread out and you have to make plans to see each other.”

Once he had gotten used to the culture, the Army realized there was a mix up with his security clearance, and as a result the Army sent G back to Italy where he was assigned to an Infantry Airborne Brigade. He served as a gunner in Vicenza, Italy for four years, but still dreamed of joining the Air Force. He decided to give it another try and called up an Air Force recruiter to apply to become a Special Tactics Combat Controller, but found out he would have to be stateside to apply for Active Duty. Once again G had to veer away from his goal and decided to re-enlist in the Army, as a Deep Sea Diver and was stationed in Virginia for four years. Eight years later, he still had hopes of joining the Air Force, and worked on his citizenship to do so.

“It felt like the target would keep moving past me, and I had to keep asking myself ‘should I do this,’ said G “…but I had already made it this far so I might as well keep going.”

The year he tried to get into the Combat Control pipeline, was also the year the 142nd stood up the 125th Special Tactics Squadron. The squadron saw his resume and concluded he had the qualifications to join, so G moved his family to Portland to take on the extremely difficult two-year pipeline at 35 years of age.

While his 20-year-old teammates were out on the town, he would be at home icing up and letting his body recover after long days of intense training.

Despite some difficulties he was already qualified in many of the required skills and was even named honor graduate at Combat Control School. Thanks to his hard work and determination, G was offered a full-time Active Guard Reserve position at the base. He now currently serves as the Squadron’s Superintendent 13 years later.

“Don’t stay comfortable in what you do,” said G. “Plan on trying new roles and career developments, and take on new challenges. Know your limits and stick to your goals.”

He enjoys what he does, so it made the challenges worth it. He stuck to his goal that he had his heart set on, but had to go through years of experience first to achieve it. Besides the challenges he’s faced in learning English, the cultural differences in the states, and joining the Army to reach his ultimate goal, he has also had to deal with challenges as a Special Tactics operator during conflicts in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Air Force has a much better lifestyle than the Army he said. He now has an 18-year-old daughter, Kate Guadagnuolo, who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and join the U.S. Air Force as well. Kate is scheduled to attend Basic Military Training by the end of the summer after she graduates high school.

“My dad has taught me to take life in strides and that’s how you venture through life and get through it,” said Kate.

G will be retiring in a year, but is proud of his daughter for wanting to follow in his Air Force footsteps and even more glad he stuck to his goal of becoming a Special Tactics Combat Controller by staying resilient, keeping his heart set on his goals, and overcoming the adversity he has faced in his career.

“I know she will be able to handle the military as she is mentally tough,” said G. “You have to be able to stay positive and resilient, but the rewards are worth it.”

She was able to meet his family in Italy and said that they are very intense, but sweet and are very family oriented. Kate enjoys playing in the water, like her dad, through water polo and said that he is goofy and likes to embarrass his kids.

She’s excited to join the Air Force and follow in her dad’s footsteps, but she will be going in to Public Affairs as a Photojournalist. She said G makes fun of her for not being able to run as fast as her old man, so she’ll have to work on that, but has told her that the military can offer her more opportunities for education and travel.

Story by Tech. Sgt. Emily Moon 

142nd Wing Public Affairs

One Response to “Overcoming Adversity: How an Italian Became a Special Tactics Operator”

  1. Pete says:

    Awesome story. Winding path to find oneself in the right place.

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