CAMP RAMADI, Iraq --
When driving down a U.S. road and witnessing an accident, most bystanders are likely to stop to make sure all of the occupants of the vehicles are okay. Now add the rollover of a 25-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle into a water-filled canal and the threat of lurking insurgents. How many people would instinctively know what to do then?
Cpl. Dustin L. Griffin knew exactly what to do.
In a small ceremony March 2, aboard Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Griffin, a security team leader with Security Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his actions following a vehicle rollover, Aug. 7, 2008, that aided in saving one Marine’s life and the recovery of everyone in the vehicle.
The multi-vehicle convoy was traveling through Karmah, Iraq on a routine mission when the fifth vehicle in the column rolled into a canal. Without hesitation, Griffin dismounted his vehicle and led the efforts of aiding the passengers trapped inside.
The vehicle, which was carrying six passengers, rolled over on its right side into a canal that was 10 to 11 feet deep and the MRAP was fully submerged, said Griffin.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Griffin removed his personal protective equipment and ran down the steep embankment into the water. Once in the canal, he rescued the interpreter who had escaped the vehicle, but did not know how to swim, according to his award citation.
Three passengers were successfully brought to shore, leaving three still trapped in the vehicle. With the vehicle sitting under two feet of water, the rescue party was in a race against time. Their biggest obstacle - a several hundred pound door.
“It took about six [people] to get the door open,” Griffin said. “Once we got the door open, myself and one of the vehicle commanders started looking for the VC and the driver.”
Griffin dove in and was able to locate the vehicle commander, who was unresponsive, but still had a pulse.
“I took my Gerber out and started cutting the seat belt off,” Griffin said. “We (other Marines in the convoy) worked together and pulled him out.”
The two remaining Marines were found and brought up on shore to the casualty collection point. While the corpsman treated the victims, Griffin assisted in setting up the landing zone where the helicopter landed for the casualty evacuation.
Unfortunately, the Corps lost two Marines that day.
However, Cpl. Griffin’s efforts in this critical situation undoubtedly aided in saving at least one Marine’s life and he greatly assisted in the overall rescue and recovery efforts of five Marines and one interpreter, as described in his citation.
Griffin’s quick and decisive action came down to training.
“For this scenario that happened, we have trained so much that when something did happen, there was no hesitation,” Griffin said. “You had a few seconds of shock and then everyone clicked into gear… no one asked questions; they just started doing it immediately.”
Griffin is an activated reservist who was going to college and working with his father at a warehouse distribution center back home in Tifton, Ga. He had been in the reserves for four years and wanted to deploy, so he volunteered to join CLB-1 on their deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom in February 2008. He then chose to extend for an extra seven months when he joined the battalion’s replacing unit, CLB-5.
He was originally with the supply section of CLB-1 when his leadership saw potential in him to handle more responsibility.
Staff Sgt. Peter A. Cruz, operations chief, Security Co., CLB-5, has worked with Griffin for the past year. He said his actions on the day of the incident did not surprise him.
“He’s excelled more and done more than I think any corporal has ever done in the short time he’s had here,” Cruz said. “All he needed was an opportunity.”
When Griffin first transferred from the supply section to Security Co., he was not trained to be a security leader, a driver, or a gunner. In only a short period of time, Griffin learned how to do all of the previous jobs mentioned, and became one of the best security leaders Security Co. had, explained Cruz.
Griffin, who was initially trained as a warehouse clerk, is a testimony to the well-known saying, “every Marine a rifleman,” said Brig. Gen. Juan G. Ayala, commanding general, 2nd MLG, who presented Griffin his award.
At the end of his deployment, Griffin plans to return to school to earn his degree in criminal justice to help him accomplish his dream of becoming an FBI agent. But he has one more thing to do before focusing on this goal.
“I just want to volunteer to [deploy again] as soon as possible, that’s my first priority,” Griffin said. “I just really enjoy it (deploying), I’m really good at doing it - it’s kind of natural to me.”
For more information about the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit http://www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.