CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Ar Ramadi, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Jason M. Crawford tracks the numerous convoys moving through the Al Anbar province.
As a tactical data network specialist the 20-year-old Conowingo, Md. native is a bit out of his element. When he volunteered to deploy he imagined himself helping other Marines construct and maintain the 2nd Marine Divisions computer network. Instead he is helping keep Marines in the region safe from both the insurgency and each other.
Convoys here often run at night and on the dust filled roads friend and foe are not always easily distinguishable. Crawford eliminates the guesswork. With the aid of a tracking system called the Blue Force Tracker, Crawford can account for every administrative and logistical convoy traveling in the province. He uses the information he gathers from the global positioning system to inform other Marines manning checkpoints and guard posts of the convoy’s arrival in their area. The information is used to reduce the chance of mistaken identity.
“Anything that comes into our area we have visibility on,” Crawford said. “I can track the different convoys and keep Marines manning [observation posts] from shooting at each other. So we can minimize the number of blue on blue incidents.”
Crawford also uses the information he gathers to help guide Marines away from potential road-side bomb sites and traffic jams. Marines can use the small laptop tracking system to relay known bomb locations and roads with a high volume of vehicle traffic. Crawford then warns other convoys near or heading toward those locations to steer clear of potential threats and bottlenecks.
“When we get word that there was an improvised explosive device explosion or a traffic jam I plot it on the grid,” Crawford said. “Then we can see who is in the area, let them know the situation and figure out what actions may be taken to get around it.”
Crawford also uses the tracking system to help Marines who have been injured. The device can be used to report insurgent attacks allowing Crawford and other Marines monitoring the convoy’s location to coordinate needed medical support.
“Whenever we can, we try to help coordinate a [medical evacuation],” Crawford said. “It feels good knowing that you get the medical support or information out that they need. It can get hectic when there are a few incidents happening at the same time.”
Crawford said he enjoys what he is doing here. The job requires a great deal of computer work, something that he wanted to do when he joined the Marines. He attended Cecil County School of Technology after graduating from Perryville High School in June 2003 before enlisting in the Marine Corps in September. His skills learned at the technical school coupled with his Marine Corps training helped him tremendously.
“I learned a lot at the technical school and my Marine Corps training went hand in hand,” Crawford said. “I’m used to doing this kind of work and I like it.”
Crawford plans to continue working with computers when he leaves the Marine Corps although he is still not sure when that will be. He believes he’s learned a lot from his experience in the Marines and is glad he joined.
“It’s taught me how to work under a lot of stress,” Crawford said. “It’s also taught me how to take charge and get what needs to be done, done.
“The Marine Corps has been good for me. I joined for experience and because I thought I would learn a lot and I have.”