CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq -- In the heart of a building with a spaghetti maze of wires connecting computers, sits a six-foot-two Marine hunched over a console, sipping a Red Bull energy drink. Nearby is an overly read and outdated copy of ‘Wired’ magazine flopped open.
Lance Cpl. Steven Ruckdashel appreciates the luxuries he can get out here in this dangerous corner of Iraq – even if they are a couple of months old. He’d better, because as the 2nd Marine Division’s web manager, he spends a lot of long nights eyeballing a computer screen to maintain communications between commands in the Al Anbar Province.
Ruckdashel helped to design and maintains both of the division’s secret and unclassified websites, used to relay information for operations in its area of responsibility. When he stepped on deck for his assignment with the 2nd Marine Division in February, he looked like the bushy-haired, bright-eyed computer nerd so often associated with the behind-the-scenes computer hacker in movies like ‘Heist’ or ‘The Italian Job’.
But he’s much more than that.
Ruckdashel is a robotics fanatic. And his love for computers gives him the edge he needs to be one of the division headquarters foremost experts in his field. He attributes his success to his upbringing and high school days.
“Imagine the Cleavers Y2K,” said Ruckdashel, describing his childhood household. “I come from a good home, but I needed a change to something more exciting and the Marines are it.
“When I attended E. C. Glass High School in 2003, I was in the robotics club and we entered the ‘First Robotics Competition,’ which is nationwide and sponsored by NASA. We didn’t make it to the nationals, but we did alright.”
Ruckdashel programmed and scripted the robot’s computer components to make the tank-like contraption move on command by joystick. This kind of innovation and attention to fine details goes into his work here.
He also helped to set up the Intranet Relay Chat, which is a basic chat room program commanders and Marines in the field can use to relay information.
“Even a Marine in a humvee can utilize this system using the computer console to type a message back to the command post. It’s real time communication.”
Ruchdashel’s job has satisfied his interests in computer technology and given him skills he’ll be able to take to the civilian work force, but he strives for more.
“I want to go to school for computer engineering,” said Ruckdashel. “That’s pretty much the closest thing you can get to robotics. After that I want to work for a company that has contracts with the military.”
He believes the military is already on the path toward more robotic technology in warfare. With unmanned aircraft as one of the forerunners, Ruckdashel has plans to be an innovator in robotic technology catered toward the military.
“I have hopes that someday my experience as a Marine will directly affect my career in military applications robotics,” said Ruckdashel. “I’ll at least have a better background than guys just getting out of college.”