First Sgt. Felix Marinelli Jr. had one humble request during his Oct. 1 interview with the Sun Rise, gesturing toward the reporter with his fingers opened slightly more than a pinch.
“Short story,” Marinelli said, with a smile and a laugh.
It would be difficult to share Marinelli’s tale while being brief.
Marinelli, who grew up in Johnston, served four years in the Marine Corps starting in 1979, before an honorable discharge led him to complete his degree at the New England Institute of Technology. He couldn’t stay away from the service, though, enlisting in the Rhode Island Army National Guard in 1994.
“Just missed the camaraderie,” he said. “I missed the military in general, and I was looking around for units. The Marine Corps didn’t have anything I wanted, so I decided to join the Army, the engineering company. I’ve been there since ’95 until today, I’m still in. I’m the first sergeant for them. It’s been a long road, a lot of challenges, but we have a really good unit.”
Marinelli participated in more than 200 combat missions during his deployment to Ar-Ramadi, Iraq, as acting platoon sergeant in 2006. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service, and then recently received the Bronze de Fleury Medal from the 861st Engineer Company.
The pamphlet from his Bronze de Fleury ceremony said he “brought his knowledge as a former marine Infantryman to a critical fight” during his federal deployment. He also earned the Combat Action Badge after an IED struck his patrol.
Marinelli didn’t have much interest in discussing his military career in too much depth, though. He gave the credit to his family, friends and fellow soldiers who have been by his side and supporting him through the years.
“You know you’ve done a few things right when you receive a medal like this, and one of the things, too, you don’t do it alone,” Marinelli said, referencing some remarks he gave at the de Fleury ceremony in September. “If you don’t have the support of the people under you and above you, you just don’t reach this point. I’m very happy with that, you know. I wouldn’t be here standing before you – this is what I read – if I didn’t have the love and support from my family and friends. It makes all the difference in the world. No one gets there alone.”
Marinelli and his crew may have only seen that one federal deployment, but they are dispatched often in response to natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. His awards ceremony pamphlet noted that he has always been “ready to prove his engineer abilities by providing leadership during state emergencies.”
“A lot of times we’re out helping other people and our families are actually home fending for themselves sometimes,” Marinelli said. “We try to set them up prior to leaving for a storm, we set them up prior to take care of themselves, but there’s a sacrifice on their part also. People don’t realize the sacrifice our families make in all this, the worrying and being alone, taking care of everyday life.”
Marinelli’s team was critical in responding to the “100-Year Flood” of 2010. He and the 861st Engineer Company were on the scene before an official state of emergency was put into effect, and remained until “the last soldier was released.”
Marinelli even remembered working on Interstate 95 with a few colleagues to alleviate the deluge, and they were able to finish before some familiar faces arrived to inspect the situation.
“[We] actually bailed out 95 with our equipment we used,” Marinelli said. “We were the ones who were on 95, pumping the water from the road to a holding area back to the stream. It was funny because the DOT and the governor [Donald Carcieri] rolled up after we were finished with a camera, they didn’t even see us. That’s fine. That’s what we do, we’re always in the background.”
His work isn’t limited to Rhode Island, or even New England for that matter. He recalled his deployment to West Virginia a few years ago, saying it “moved me just as much as going to Iraq.” He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, didn’t get to the area until about a week after the floods, but community members had been helping one another and Marinelli’s company from the jump.
“Those people are so resilient and humble. We’re there to help them. They’re coming up to us, asking, ‘How can we help you?’ No, we’re here to help you,” Marinelli said. “Those people were helping each other like you would not believe. It’s a faith-based community, so they came from the woodworks. People everywhere, helping each other.”
Marinelli said he has also derived motivation from wanting to be the best at what he does. He’s may be quiet about his distinctions and decorated career, but he has worked decades to achieve them and reach his personal summit.
“I try to own whatever I do. I try to be the best,” Marinelli said. “If I’m sweeping the floor, I want to be the best floor sweeper. If I’m going to be a soldier, I want to be the best soldier or my team could be the best. You always have to keep improving. That is key. You can’t get complacent. If you think, ‘Oh, that’s fine. Good enough.’ No good. You’ve got to keep improving. Always.”
Apologies to Marinelli, but there is simply no short way to tell his story. He has ventured all over the world and has a lifetime of tales to share, including encountering fellow Rhode Islanders in his travels abroad.
He also said that, after some of the experiences he’s had, he believes there’s a higher power watching out.
“It’s incredible, but there’s a lot of other soldiers from the town who have done really well, too. There’s a lot of silent warriors out there. It’s pretty impressive,” Marinelli told the Sun Rise. “There is a God. Believe me. You know it, you feel it. Some of the stuff we were involved in. Oh, yeah. There’s no doubt.”