Gables chamber president off to Iraq with SouthCom
By Paula Distefano
Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce President Lettie J. Bien, an Army Reserve colonel with the US Southern Command Unit, is being called to active duty in support of operation Iraqi Freedom.
She said she is to report Dec. 1 for up to 545 days and will serve on an assignment staff position. Not specifying what her duties will be, Col. Bien said "They [the military] tell you the minimum amount of info, for security reasons."
One issue Col. Bien may be involved in is privatization of industry in Iraq, which, under Saddam Hussein's regime, was owned by the government.
"Privatization of industry is a national goal," she said. "In a free market economy you need to find a market for goods and services, privatize businesses, venture capital; the military has been working on this for a lot of months."
The Southern Command, or SouthCom, is one of nine unified commands around the world within the Department of Defense and serves as control room for almost all US military and national security operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. SouthCom's headquarters are in Doral. Personnel from the US Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard are assigned to the post.
According to the Department of Defense website, as of last week more than 150,000 National Guard and reserve units had been called to active duty.
Col. Bien, also a lawyer, was named president of the 1,500-member Coral Gables chamber on April 1, 2002, succeeding Ron Robison upon his retirement.
"The chamber has known [that I could be called] for some time, and has been looking at options," said Ms. Bien, adding that Vice President Ana M. Gonzalez will be named acting president until a decision on a possible replacement is made.
Other contingency alternatives are being weighed, said Chairman Neil Linden in a written statement this week. Mr. Linden, a shareholder with law firm Adorno & Yoss, heads the committee making recommendations for the chamber's board of directors.
"We plan to run [the organization] as it has been run by Col. Bien, not making too many changes," Ms. Gonzalez said of possible adjustments during the period she will be in charge. "We are all supporting [Col. Bien], worried for her, and hoping she comes back safe and sound."
Col. Bien said that although she is "proud to serve and committed to giving 1000%," she is concerned with "leaving and abandoning."
"Intellectually, I know it is not the case," she said. "We have been planting great seeds, but I am personally distraught about the fact that I will most likely miss all of 2004 - that is a big chunk out of someone's life."
"The leaving is tough," she said.
Another member of the eight-person staff will be directly affected by the deployment: bookkeeper Clarita Pearson's husband, Army Reserve Sgt. Chris Pearson, a principal with Coral Gables' The Pearson Group, is also to report for duty Dec. 1.