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Luiss Guido Carli

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Marina Catena: UN diplomacy and camouflage for a life without borders

The professional path of the LUISS alumna, between challenges and extraordinary opportunities

LUISS alumna Marina Catena, is currently Director of the United Nations World Food Programme and Lieutenant of the Italian Army (Specialized Reserve).


Her latest book, Romanzo Militare: #Operazione Double Sierra (Rubbettino) is now on shelves in Italian bookshops, telling the story of the men and women working on Operazione Strade Sicure which has defended Italian cities for ten years. “The protagonists of the story, despite being so different, are joined by their great sense of humanity, fundamental for a soldier, as well as by their professionalism and great observation abilities.”

Marina explains that there are over 2,000 men and women involved in Operazione Strade Sicure, “a mission that is not at all simple and that requires that our soldiers, true sentinels on the road, are prepared for everything that can happen on the streets.”

The book aims to help the public understand the operation: “The Army has changed, it has modernized, it is extremely professional and while it is highly capable of working on the international level, it is an authentic expression of Made in Italy. Operazione Strade Sicure is a clear example of the importance of the dual mandate of our military, both abroad and at home,” maintains Lieutenant Catena.

Marina is a graduate of the LUISS program in Political Science. “I was able to attend LUISS thanks to a scholarship from Opera Universitaria. The first memory I have of the University is the Rouge et Noir, the residence for scholarship winners, where I met so many people and made many friends that I am still in contact with today. I also remember the Viale Pola campus, a little happy island in the middle of chaotic Rome. I have such fond memories of my university years.”

Marina grew up in Ortona a Mare, the site of the largest Canadian military cemetery  abroad. It is there, as a young girl, that she first dreamed of joining the military: “When I first wanted to enlist, the Italian military did not yet accept women. Instead, I began my diplomatic career with the United Nations. Once I became a United Nations diplomat, I was informed of the existence of the reserve forces by a young official. I applied and became Lieutenant Catena. For many women, like the current Minister of Defense Elisabetta Trenta, this was how we entered the military.”

Marina continued on her double professional path, simultaneously pursuing both her UN career and her military commitment. “There are several challenges for a woman in the military, which I talked about in my book Una donna per soldato. Diario di una tenente italiana in Libano (Rizzoli), but there are also extraordinary opportunities that no other position can offer. One of the key values that you learn as a soldier is that, while individuals exist, everyone is part of a wider family and nobody is ever alone. There are heroes, but more importantly there is teamwork.”

Marina then talks about her passion for sport: “I work out every day and this also allows me to be prepared from a physical point of view for a military career. In the gym we are all the same, all you need are sacrifice and endurance.”

To young people interested in pursuing a similar career, Marina suggests learning as much as possible from people who live lives very different from their own, to be curious and multifaceted. “In life I am always looking the best, both personally and professionally. To strive for excellence in everything I do is the modus vivendi that LUISS taught me.”

Today, LUISS “demonstrates an important openness towards the military world, which only appears to be foreign to the world of academia. Examples of this are the program held in collaboration with the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito and the innovative approach of General Manager Giovanni Lo Storto,” adds Lieutenant Catena.

Finally, Marina highlights the importance of the network of LUISS alumni that grows every year. “Thanks to the help of friends from my university days, who now hold leadership positions in Italy and around the world, I have been able to launch important projects.”