HADITHA, AL ANBAR, Iraq -- A chaplain travels on the dangerous roads of Iraq, carrying his crucifix and bible with him. To those who might not believe these holy items to be enough protection, there is something else he takes with him that will surely deter any unwanted trouble - a Marine.
Standing 6 feet 7 inches tall, Lance Cpl. Justin E. Dawson is a rifleman and the chaplain's assistant with 3rd battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. He knows that size matters but being equally smart doesn't hurt either.
The 23-year-old was attending college to earn his master's degree before he heard the calling to defend his country and his beloved hometown.
"My hometown is like any other," said Dawson, a native of Monticello, N.Y. "We are just a suburb of New York City and you can easily go down the wrong path or easily stay on the straight and narrow. I choose the latter."
Dawson graduated from Monticello High School in 1999 where he was a member of the 1998 Section Nine Championship Team and the '98 and '99 division championship teams. He proudly admits to being a member of the All Tri-County First Team during his senior year.
"I loved playing sports in high school," Dawson said. " Seeing my name in newspaper and my face on the TV representing my hometown made me feel good."
He later transferred to California University of Pennsylvania in California, Pa., on a full athletic scholarship and that's where he met a man that changed his life.
"There was this older guy in one of my classes," Dawson stated. "He said he was in the Marine Corps for twenty years and there is nothing in the world that could compare to that feeling. I just had to find out for myself."
The same day he called a recruiter and by the end of the week he found himself at Parris Island, S.C. standing in those ominous yellow footprints.
"My dad was in the Navy for twelve years and even as a kid he would tell me about the Marines and how great they are," Dawson said. "This would be my first great accomplishment, but I made it my goal to not let it be the last."
"When I got back from SOI (the School of Infantry) I immediately began to work toward getting my master's degree in business management," Dawson said. "I knew in today's world you need at least a bachelor's degree to get a job compared to a couple of decades ago when you only needed your high school diploma.
"Being a New Yorker, I felt especially good about having a chance to do my part," said a smiling Dawson. "Some people fail to realize what the globe in our symbol means. It means worldwide service and I intend on honoring that."
In November he received news that he was accepted to Officer Candidate's School. This was news that he had been waiting patiently to receive since he graduated recruit training.
"With school, the upcoming deployment and now being accepted to OCS, it was harder to focus on doing my job as a Marine," Dawson said with a sigh. "I know that everything will work in the end if I give it the old college try."