|AR RAMADI, Iraq, June 7, 2007 — The Marine Corps forges leaders and professionals by refining the qualities that are inherent in those who serve. But, sometimes people are professionals before they become the “First to Fight.”
Such is the case of Sgt. Randy Edwards, a heavy-equipment operator with the “Sandsharks” of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371. Before becoming a Marine, he had already been a soldier and a carpenter.
While in high school, Edwards had an itch that needed scratching. That itch was joining the military.
“The Marine recruiter at the time told me he didn’t want to talk to me until I had my high school diploma,” said Edwards, a Grants, N.M., native. “I wanted to join the military. I wanted to join the Marine Corps, but I just couldn’t wait.”
The 17-year-old joined the Army reserves on a two-year contract. During the summer break of his junior year at La Plata High School in La Plata, Mo., he attended basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. After graduating from high school, he went back to Fort Benning for his advanced individual training as an infantryman.
“In the Army I was infantry, so that helped me as a Marine with that type of stuff,” he said. “I already knew the weapon systems and I was already in good physical shape, too.”
In 2000, a year after completing his contract with the Army and working in a civilian job as a carpenter, he joined the Corps.
“When I came in I wanted to be an infantrymen, figuring it would be the easiest transition for me,” said the heavy-equipment operator. “It was closed out at the time. So, I didn’t know what to do and I said ‘What’s the next closest field?’ My recruiter said the engineer field and just kind of picked the (military occupational specialty) for me.”
Although there was room for improvement, Edwards had plenty of experience in the skilled labor field, which translated well for him. He had spent his teenage years working construction, masonry and framing. In high school he took vocational education courses in carpentry and later became a journeyman carpenter during his time as a reservist and up until he joined the Corps.
“I was a journeyman carpenter before I came in, so I worked around heavy equipment and had been doing construction anyways,” said Edwards, who is a platoon sergeant. “It was a smooth transition. The only thing I hadn’t done was operate the heavy machinery, but I had been around it the whole time, so it’s been an easy MOS for me.”
While deployed, the heavy equipment section of squadron 371 provides two types of support; the first is using fork lifts and cranes to move things like pallets of water and storage containers, the second is planned missions which involve months of planning and require heavy equipment to complete.
The missions are referred to as “dirt work” because heavy equipment, such as the130 G graders that are used for leveling out surfaces, is used to move dirt and shape things like roads, helicopter landing zones, and fuel pits. The missions can take from a few days to a few months.
The heavy-equipment operators spend most of their time at home learning the equipment and preparing for deployments.
To hone their skills, they spend time material handling with the crane and fork lift and learning how to use different types of heavy equipment in the training pit. The Sandsharks worked with Arizona’s Bureau of Land Management prior to the current deployment, fixing access roads to beaches and parks.
“No one complained and everyone had a good time because at the end of the day it actually meant something,” said Edwards.
“The roads had been washed out and we needed to fix them back up. We spent 10 days out there and everyone had a good time because they actually got to learn something, which made my job easier over here because they knew a little bit more than they had.”
Throughout Edwards’ seven years in the Corps, he has been to two duty stations, Marine Corps Base Iwakuni, Japan, and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.