MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – -- At 19 and 20 years of age, many young Americans are contemplating their next move within college and technical schools or the entry-level workforce.
Lance Cpl. James R. Craven was a 19-year-old with a lifetime of experience, returning from braving the highways of Al Anbar province, Iraq, last March with more than 115 convoy operations under his belt.
“The first thing I noticed was the heat,” said the motor transportation operator, now 20 years old, remembering his first stop in the Middle East. “When we landed in Kuwait at 11:30 p.m., it was 98 degrees outside. Then, as we arrived at our first base (in Iraq), I remember (the camp) being mortared and sirens going off.”
What Craven, who is not yet old enough to drink alcohol, accomplished is not out of the ordinary. There are many service members barely out of their teenage years who have already served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is just one individual from this demographic, and like the others, he has a story to tell.
Craven, assigned to motor transportation section, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF, was involved in cross country, swimming and track during his high school years. Good-humored and musically inclined, he enjoyed the company of others, but near the end of his high school years Craven felt he should pursue something other than college and its social life.
“I didn’t want to go to college and I had to do something,” he said. “I gave my information to every branch of service at a college career event, and the Marine recruiter was the first one to call me back.”
Craven enlisted into the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program nearly a year before graduation. He left for recruit training during June 2004, saying he liked the harsh experience of becoming a Marine.
“It was something I had never done before,” Craven said. “I actually thought it was a thrill and I enjoyed it.”
Graduating from recruit training, Craven later attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., before attending Motor Transportation School, at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. It was there he learned his present skills as an operator of military trucks.
“I learned how to operate (seven-ton trucks) and humvees,” said Craven. “I learned with others how to do preventive maintenance and work in a (motor transportation) environment as a team to accomplish a task.”
Assigned to II MHG, Craven was stateside for less than a year before he deployed to Iraq to support II MEF (Forward) convoy operations. It was there he witnessed and experienced the reality of a war zone. Craven drove military vehicles on countless day and night tactical operations moving service members and supplies, working as a dispatcher keeping accountability of all the vehicles in the motor pool and assisting in special duties.
“We made sure the trucks ran properly, especially since it was the desert,” he said. “We also assisted the Iraqis in the (Iraqi Security Forces), by showing them how to guard their compounds.”
True to his work and open personality, Craven enjoys the company of friends he has found in the Marines.
“He’s a pretty hard worker. If someone gives him a task to do he may ask a few questions about its details, but he’ll do it,” said Cpl. Thomas A. Wagar, a wrecker operator with the motor transportation section. “He gets along with everyone. He likes to have fun while at work and he’s always got a story or something to talk about.”
Craven has already begun training for his next deployment. It is unsure if the motor transportation section will return to Iraq, but Craven seems eager to go for another bout in the desert, especially if it’s with his friends in the Marines.
“I’ll definitely have some good pictures, stories and lifelong friendships from all over (the United States),” he said of his time in the Corps. “I know if I need something, they’ll help me out.”