MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.— -- The American Marine has several distinguishable traits: the woodland or desert digital camouflage uniform, U.S. government issued gear and the trademark American-made M16 service rifle in tow. Sgt. Justin T. Dawson fights proudly beneath the red, white and blue. However, he also knows how to carry the arms of his enemy.
Dawson, a 22-year-old small arms repairman/ technician and native of Aberdeen, Md., serves as an armorer for II Marine Expeditionary Force. Marines in his command look to his expertise in both friendly and enemy weaponry systems, and he considers it a personal responsibility to ensure his junior Marines know the weapons of the adversary.
“It’s always important to understand enemy ordnance—specifically, in the Iraq theatre,” said the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. “You want to make friends as much as you can, and if you can handle and fix their weapons, it’s going to help them a lot.”
Dawson, who joined the Marine Corps approximately four years ago and attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in July of 2004. While assigned to Babil Provence, Iraq, Dawson was charged with collecting weaponry and ordnance found in caches or recovered from surrendered insurgents. After inspecting and completing any necessary repairs, Dawson re-issued the same munitions to Iraqi Security Forces.
“We also supported the Iraqi police by showing them how to do corrective maintenance,” he said.
After completing a combat deployment, Dawson was sent to Ft. Bragg, N.C., for the one- month Small Arms/Foreign Weapon Course, where he expanded his skills on both domestic and foreign weapons from the 9mm Beretta pistol to foreign rifles.
A self-professed “gun nut” from his youth, Dawson’s first love was a BB gun at age 11. Two years later, he graduated to a shotgun. Dawson said trigger time in his youth made joining the Marine Corps an easy decision.
“I grew up working on a farm, and I was able to shoot every day if I wanted to,” he said. “I also have family history in the military, so it wasn’t even a question that I wanted to join when I was old enough.”
Shortly after his high school graduation, Dawson paid a visit to a recruiter.
“I wasn’t one of those people who were recruited,” he said. “I walked into the office ready to be signed up. It didn’t take a lot of convincing.”
Sometimes, the only Marine a person meets before they join the Corps is their recruiter, but Dawson had another ally on his side.
“I met a staff sergeant who was an armorer, and he invited me to the school where people learn the job,” he said, noting his hometown is also host to a Department of Defense school of weaponry. “I went into the classroom and saw everyone messing around with guns, and I knew it was my thing.”
Shortly after returning from Ft. Bragg, Dawson deployed to Louisiana for one month in September 2005 to provide humanitarian support to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Upon returning to his duty station here, Dawson transferred to the II MEF Headquarters Group where he now serves as the unit’s armorer. Dawson indicated that his love of weaponry will follow him through all paths of life.
“I’m interested to see the other side of life as a civilian,” he said, adding that he plans to work as a foreign ordnance technician for a civilian government agency after this enlistment.
“I definitely don’t regret joining the Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but nothing bad came out of it. I think I’m a better person because of it.”
Although Dawson’s military occupational specialty has remained the same throughout his career, he believes his life experience extends across a broad spectrum, making him a valuable asset to the American fighting forces and civilian population. He knows his enemy, he knows himself, and stands ready to get the job done.