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Orlando Sentinel

Marrero Making Ft. Stewart Run Smoothly

By Roger Roy

February 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Fort Stewart, GA. -- Col. Edwin R. Marrero has the kind of ramrod posture and stern appearance not unusual given his rank and his job here as chief of staff of the largest Army base east of the Mississippi.

So it’s a little surprising when he smiles at visitors and hands them bags of candy wrapped with a bright ribbon and marked with a note that says, "God bless you. The Marrero Family."

The goodies, like Marrero himself, come all the way from Orlando, which is Marrero’s home. And they’re a sign of how the whole Marrero family feels caught up in the war on terrorism.

Since he was called to active duty in January, Marrero has been at Fort Stewart, where he commands the staff that runs the sprawling base and nearby Hunter Army Airfield. Both have played central roles in the mobilization toward a possible war with Iraq, with thousands of soldiers reporting from around the southeast every week to be equipped, trained and flown overseas.

In his civilian life, Marrero works for an Army Reserve unit in Orlando, where he is a supervisory staff, operations and training specialist with the 143rd Transportation Command, some of whose soldiers have been called to active duty and are in Kuwait or training at Fort Stewart now.

Marrero’s uniformed military career stretches back 32 years.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he joined the Army in 1971 so he’d be able to attend college. After active duty, he joined the National Guard in Puerto Rico, got a business degree from Bayamon Central University there, and after eight years as an enlisted soldier went to officer’s school.

When he moved to the mainland, he joined the Georgia National Guard, then the Army Reserve when he went to Miami, and continued to work his way up through the ranks.

Promoted to colonel in May 2000, he is now commander of the 3220th Garrison Support Unit based in West Palm Beach.

The 400-soldier unit’s role is to step in and run a base when the military unit that ordinarily does the job is sent overseas.

Fort Stewart’s 16,500 usual occupants, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, are now in the deserts of Kuwait preparing for war. But the base can’t just shut down because it’s needed to ready thousands of more troops for deployment. So the 3220th was called to Fort Stewart for active duty that could last up to two years.

In a way, the assignment brings Marrero back to where his military career began. As a new soldier in Europe, he wore the insignia of the 3rd Infantry Division, then based in Germany. Because the garrison units become part of the units they’re filling in for, Marrero is once again wearing the 3rd Infantry patch, with its distinctive diagonal stripes.

Marrero’s job looks like a logistical headache - 3,000 new soldiers reported to the base last weekend alone, and moving them around the base and providing security is a monumental task.

But Marrero said he’s glad to be here. He likens the situation facing America now to that of the 1941, a pivotal point that could alter world events for decades to come.

"These are exciting times," Marrero said. "The ways in which America projects its national power now could affect the next 50 years."

But it’s also hard to be away from his family: his wife Elizabeth and daughters Lizzie Michelle, Omayra and Carmen, and grandson Guy Edwin.

"I miss them," Marrero said. "But everything else about being here I enjoy."

As for the bags of candy Marrero gives out, they are the work of his youngest daughter Carmen, 16, who is a drum major at Cypress Creek High School, just as her older sisters were.

They’re a close family, and Marrero is quick to pull out photos of the whole family to show visitors, including one that illustrates why Marrero’s call to active duty isn’t the only reason they feel a personal tie to the war on terrorism.

Every two years the family travels to New York City. During their trip in December 2000, they all rode to the top of the World Trade Center to take in the view from the observation deck.

They went back again in December 2002. Marrero keeps on his desk a photo taken during that trip at the memorial for the Trade Center, which bears the words, "We will never forget."

The family paused at the site to pray, Marrero said, "for all the soldiers who are doing something about it."

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