JUPITER, Fla. -- Marc Ferraro relaxed in a box seat at Roger Dean Stadium Friday morning, enjoyed the comfortable Florida weather and watched his son play baseball. He wasn't much different from all the other parents who are here to watch their sons play in the 2009 WWBA World Championship, but he might have cherished the occasion more than the other moms and dads.
Marc Ferraro is Col. Marc Ferraro, a career Army man, and he returned to the United States on Sept. 14 after a nine-month tour of duty in Iraq, where he was the commander of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, comprised mostly of National Guard soldiers from Pennsylvania. He was in charge of 4,500 soldiers in the brigade, in hostile territory where the temperature reached well into the triple digits at times.
"One day it got up to 138 degrees," he said.
Col. Ferraro lost three soldiers during his term of duty in Iraq. Another 71 were injured, some severely. He estimated there were about five or six "serious incidents" per week, involving injury or direct fire. Part of his job was writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers. "Yes. We write the letters," he confirmed.
That's why it was so nice to sit in the stands Friday morning, watching his son, Steve, catch a game for the College Select team. Col. Ferraro sat with his wife, Crystal, and their 12-year-old son, Christopher, as the sun rose over Jupiter and the two teams "battled" on the field, a far cry from the real battles he experienced in Iraq.
"It's refreshing," he said. "It's great to come back and watch him play. I missed his entire junior season."
Steve Ferraro is now a senior at Bishop Eustace in Cherry Hill, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia. His team lost Thursday morning, 6-0, to the White Sox Scout Team/Florida Legends on a combined perfect game by three White Sox pitchers. Ferraro lined out to shortstop in a bid for a base hit early in the game, drawing a slight grimace of disappointment from his proud father. "He hit it well," the colonel remarked.
"It's a great feeling to have him here," Steve said after the game. "I'm happy to have him back."
Col. Ferraro enlisted in the Army in 1981 and got his commission in 1987. He's a full-time member of the National Guard and has been stationed overseas in Panama (1989), Kosovo (2003-04) and Iraq. He thinks the Allies have made significant progress in Iraq, but said there's still work to do.
"In my opinion, there are two major challenges in Iraq," he said. "One, obviously, they need to work on the corruption (in the Iraqi government). There's corruption there, like there is anywhere. And also, they need to work to solve differences between the Sunnis and the Shiite, the Kurds and stuff of that nature. Tribal issues."
Col. Ferraro said the Iraqi security forces are "well on their way" to being able to stand on their own two feet. "They're getting there, and I think they can do it," he said.
The United States and its allies plan to remove all of their combat troops from Iraq by next August, leaving a "small force" of 20,000 to 30,000 troops in support and advisory roles. Col. Ferraro's brigade was not replaced when it left Iraq, part of the drawdown of military personnel.
Ferraro, 45, thinks the citizens in Iraq have a "mixed" view of Americans, "but believe it or not," he added, "it was more pro in our area than negative." His headquarters was in Taji, in the northwest portion of Baghdad. "While people want to see U.S. troops leave, they also understand the reason why we're there and what we're doing," he said.
Ferraro will give up his command of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in January to become the Chief of Staff for the 20th Infantry Division in Pennsylvania, a promotion that will put him in charge of 15,000 soldiers, more than three times the size of his brigade. On this Friday morning in Florida, however, his thoughts were about baseball, his family and his son on the field.
"I can come here and relax," he said. "It makes you appreciate life a lot."