An officer in the Army for 20 years, Lorenzo Fiorentino was in charge of anti-terrorism at a base in Kabul that housed the Three Star General Command.
The youngest of four children, Lorenzo Fiorentino was born in Casteldaccia, Sicily, to Pietro and Rosalia (Canale). His father became ill and could no longer work the farm, and in 1972, the family immigrated to Chicago, where they lived with Rosalia’s sister and her family. His mother supported them as a seamstress until his father recovered and began working in a factory.
Fiorentino grew up near Pulaski Road and North Avenue and attended Our Lady of the Angels grade school. He remembers growing up in an Italian neighborhood. “Everybody watched out for everybody,” he says. “If you said something wrong to somebody, you were going to hear it when you got home. Not only hear it, but you were going get it, because you were supposed to respect everybody.”
He recalls a visit from his Uncle Bernard, who told stories of his experiences in the Italian army during World War II. The 13-year-old’s interest was piqued. “I thought it would be kind of neat to be in the military,” says Fiorentino. “He wasn’t glorifying it, but he really believed in what he had done during the war.”
The family moved to Grand and Neva avenues, and Fiorentino attended Steinmetz High School. He participated in the Junior ROTC program, motivated by 1st Sgt. Richard R. Durant. “I thought so highly of him and the profession of being a soldier and knew from that day on that, one way or another, I was going to do some time in the service,” he says.
Fiorentino attended the University of Illinois at Chicago on an ROTC scholarship and studied engineering. After one year, he did some soul searching, joined the Army National Guard, changed his major to criminal justice, and completed three months of basic training at Ft. McClellan, Ala. Fiorentino graduated from U. of I. in 1992 with a degree in criminology and a reserve commission as second lieutenant in the National Guard.
He married Lauren Attore in 1995 and worked full time as a Cook County juvenile probation officer. Meanwhile, he was training weekends and doing two-week summer stints with the National Guard, traveling between Ft. McCoy, Wis., and Camp Atterbury, Ind. During this time, he became a battery commander for the Air Defense Artillery Unit, primarily training soldiers to tactically and technically use stinger missiles. He was promoted to captain in 2000.
The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Fiorentino was getting ready for work while watching the morning news in horror as planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York. His wife was caring for their toddler daughter and infant son when he told her, “Okay, I’m going to call into work — I’m going to my armory.” He was on active duty for a short time before returning to work while being available 24/7 for the Army. He was given the opportunity to go on active duty and accepted in June 2002.
Working out of the Illinois National Guard’s Northwest Armory at North and Kedzie avenues, Fiorentino trained, mobilized and deployed soldiers headed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He usually came home at night but was constantly on the go. “It got to the point where I would keep a bag in the car because I never knew when I was going have to go to Arkansas or Springfield,” Fiorentino recalls.
Soldiers were going out and coming back; some didn’t return alive. Fiorentino assisted families of fallen soldiers as the casualty assistance officer, notifying next of kin and working with families from the time the remains were met at the airport until one week after the burial. He coordinated everything from paperwork to meeting with the governor and chaplain. “You have all these moving pieces because everybody wants to do the right thing for the fallen soldier and the family,” he says.
Fiorentino deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, in March 2004, where he was assigned as the provost marshal to the Three Star General Command on base. As the resident anti-terrorism officer, he was responsible for safeguarding everything on the base in addition to coordinating with the local coalition bases and the four other major U.S. bases in Afghanistan for mutual support.
Fiorentino daily walked and drove the perimeter of the base, checking the walls, upgrading and improving them for safety. He was instrumental in bringing in bomb-sniffing dogs. “My base was a high value target for any bad guy,” says Fiorentino.
The base was rocketed weekly. The minute a rocket was fired, Fiorentino would locate where it came from, call the Turkish base and give them the coordinates. “They would light them up with their helicopters,” Fiorentino says.
Fiorentino was off base 50 percent of the time. “Initially you were a little nervous about it,” he says. “But like the old saying goes, it’s in God’s hands.” His unit aided in rebuilding the infrastructure of Kabul, reopening schools and the university, soccer stadium, museum and zoo. The soldiers started the work until Afghans were vetted and replaced them. “We weren’t there to take over Afghanistan,” says Fiorentino. “We were there to help them take over themselves.” He also coordinated with the Afghan defense minister and the Afghan chief of staff of the army to reestablish the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense.
Kabul lay in ruins. In 2001, the Taliban blew up 2,000-year-old statues. Children roamed the bombed-out, dusty streets and Fiorentino thought of his own two children safe at home. “It broke my heart,” he says, “because nobody cared about these kids.” Working with a Catholic priest and the Sisters of Mother Teresa, an orphanage was established to care for these children.
After one year in Afghanistan, Fiorentino returned to Chicago and became the brigade adjutant, working out of the armory. His primary job continued to be training, mobilizing and deploying soldiers. In 2005, his unit deployed to Louisiana to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina.
While on active duty in Chicago, Fiorentino worked minimal hours as a part-time police officer for the suburbs of Elmwood Park, River Grove, Bellwood and the Maywood Park District. He retired from the Army in 2009 as a major and returned to his position as Cook County juvenile probation officer and is now a supervisor. Under the GI Bill, Fiorentino earned a master’s degree in human services administration.
He remains active in many organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Fraternal Order of Police and Italian-American Veterans Museum.
Reflecting on his time in Afghanistan, Fiorentino explains that there is no front line. “Today the same kid that I’ve got coming in to clean the general’s quarters could sneak in and do some horrible things because the Taliban grabs his mom and dad and says, ‘If you don’t go blow up Capt. Fiorentino’s base, we’re gonna kill your parents.’”
Reprinted with permission from Fra Noi. (Copyright 2020) To learn more, click here.