FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq -- Walking into the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit armory nine months ago, Cpl. Justin Dawson – then, a young lance corporal with only nine months of service in the fleet -- entered his new workspace, the neglected remnants of a larcenous betrayal. Weapons – dirty, broken – littered the floor in a maze of metallic chaos. Over a dozen others, recently recovered, were being held by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service as crime evidence for the pending trial against the MEU’s previous armorer for the theft of various military ordnance.
As he beheld an armory in ruins, Dawson was eager to assume the responsibility for its restoration.
“From day one, when Cpl. Dawson reported to us, he immediately took charge of the armory,” said Sgt. Maj. Donnie Barrett, 46, an Anderson, S.C., native and the 24th MEU sergeant major. “He took control of an account that had been previously abused by his predecessor. He had limited experience at the time, yet he demonstrated the ability to work independently and diligently towards earning our trust and respect.”
But there was much to be done to get the one-man armory back to operational standards before it was ready for the upcoming deployment.
“After the incident, Dawson did a wall-to-wall inventory of the armory,” said Staff Sergeant Cinthya Cruz, 29, a Miami native and the MEU’s armory management chief. “He let us know if we needed to order new weapons, and what was missing from the incident. He also created spreadsheets to keep us updated when weapons go down for maintenance. He totally started from scratch.”
Additionally, all of the weapons had to be reissued. Working closely with Capt. Pete Forsythe, the MEU’s assistant logistics officer, Dawson helped establish a new standard operating procedure.
“We had to (create) a new armory SOP,” said Dawson, 20, a native of Aberdeen, Md. “We took from the (2nd Marine) Division and Marine Expeditionary Force SOPs and made our own, because there wasn’t one.”
Another obstacle Dawson had to overcome was his rank. Being a junior Marine in such a crucial billet brought problems from units that didn’t understand the challenges he was facing.
“Being a lance corporal trying to co-ordinate weapon transfers… you get a lot of flak (from others),” adds Dawson. “I would call (Marines) up and say, ‘Hey, I need this weapon now!,’ and they would be like, ‘Who are you? You’re just a lance.’ All they saw was someone doing the work a corporal or sergeant would do… I had to explain myself a lot.”
Perhaps the most sobering responsibility that comes with the position is the extend to which he’s held liable for knowing the location of each and every weapon under his jurisdiction.
“Being an armorer in the 24th MEU, especially the Command Element, is more than just fixing weapons,” said Dawson. “It’s not like a normal job where I can go to work, and at the end of the day – Bam! – I’m done. If I don’t have accountability, I can go to jail. That’s something a lot (of Marines) don’t understand.”
Having negotiated these obstacles, and many others, Dawson was awarded a meritorious promotion to corporal on Sept. 2 for his outstanding work ethic and dedication.
“A good Marine is expected to be able to accomplish any and all tasks without direct supervision,” said Barrett. “When it is determined that you can do that, you are given increased responsibilities. Cpl. Dawson displayed the ability to accomplish his duties without any supervision and was awarded a meritorious promotion for doing so.”
Dawson is excited about his recent achievement, but still prides himself more on his knowledge and experience than his newly appointed rank.
“Its’ great,” he enthused. “I can get a lot more work done now. I’m one of the few that got the job I wanted. I’m good at (it) because I love what I do, and that’s why it comes so easy. I’m able to look at (weapons brought in from raids) and be able to tell them, ‘This one will work, but this one won’t,’ because I know what to look for.”
But with his new rank comes the new challenge of meeting the leadership expectations from his superiors.
“Now that he’s a corporal, (I expect him to take) a bigger leadership role in his section,” said Cruz. “He should show (others) that they can also (accomplish) the things he’s done.”
Even during Dawson’s off-time, he’s eager to help Marines who are experiencing problems with their weapons.
“Last night, someone brought in an (M203 Grenade Launcher), and I didn’t mind staying up to fix it,” said Dawson. “I’m the part of combat that matters most -- (making) sure that gun fires.”
And it’s this type of dedication that makes him a valuable weapon in the 24th MEU arsenal.
“He has a motivation to excel at everything instead of just settling for the bare minimum,” said Cruz. “He’s not satisfied until his work is perfect.”