Convoying equipment for hours in Indonesia, the roads became too tight to accommodate the large trailers required to transport the U.S. Army Caterpillar D6 and D7 Dozers.
“There wasn't enough turning radius on some roads, because the roads were so small and narrow,” said Sgt. Shane Crawford, a heavy equipment operator, with the 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command “There were houses, big cement blocks, mailboxes, just all kinds of stuff [in the way]."
The team was left with no choice but to unload the two dozers and drive them to the job site. The dozers weigh between 50,000 pounds, and 65,000 pounds and the dozers metal tracks would damage the unimproved roads.
We would lay down the plywood in front of the dozer, and then drive it forward 5 to 10 meters so the tracks wouldn’t damage the ground, he said.
“I remember my muscles hurting so bad after carrying piece of plywood over and over for the dozer to drive on,” he said. “We did this for a mile until we made it to the job site.”
“We were so sweaty and hot,” he said. “It was just terrible, and we didn't have only one [dozer], we had two dozers, so we had to do it twice.”
When posed with the decision to stay in the military, Shane Crawford chose to take his career to new heights – at the top of a volcano.
A year before joining the Army, Shane graduated high school in 2016, after which he spent a year bouncing from job to job in De Graff, Ohio, which is located 46 miles from Dayton, Ohio.
“I worked at a factory job; I worked at Walmart, third shift stalking and as a cashier; I worked in a cigarette factory, which was terrible; I worked as a dishwasher for a little coffee shop, and at a little diner,” he said.
Not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, and hoping from job to job, he finally decided to join the military.
“I looked more to the military because I had some buddies that were in the military,” he said. “So, I would just talk to them and ask a few questions, try and see what branch I’d want to join.”
Shane went to an Army recruiter with his twin brother, Shawn. The recruiter offered them the opportunity to stay together through basic training, advance individual training, and at least one year at their first duty station.
“The buddy system is what made me and my brother want to join the Army instead of the Navy,” he said. “Why not do that instead of joining a branch that splits you up?”
While they expected to be together during their first year at Fort Drum, New York, they ended up staying together the entirety of their first contract until they reenlisted, both for Hawaii.
“We hang out during the weekends, watch football together, play video games together, workout together, travel together,” he said. “My brother and I are best friends; everyone is shocked when they see that we are in the same platoon and have been in the Army together our whole career.”
Although being together with a sibling can have its perks, it can also have its downsides.
“Honestly, it's been a headache because anytime we have stuff going on, like administrative paperwork, or anything that involves DOD ID numbers or personnel information, we always get mixed up.” said Shane. “We had to get a COVID test done three times because they thought we were one another.”
But this time while in Indonesia, Shane had everything in place to reenlist. Meanwhile, Shawn was back in Hawaii and on the fence about staying in the Army.
“Going through life, my twin, that’s all I really had,” said Sgt. Shawn Crawford, who serves in the same unit as his brother. “Being able to experience the Army together with my twin brother just makes it a whole lot better.”
While Shawn was in Hawaii debating his next big move in life, Shane was in Indonesia for Exercise Super Garuda Shield 23, constructing a road with his fellow engineers, the Indonesian National Armed Forces Army, and Marines.
In Indonesia, at Fort Puslapar where the road was being constructed, the local population uses the same roads that military vehicles use on base.
“While working, the locals come up and talk to you,” said Shane. “The vendors would drive up on a moped with a big bucket or a basket attached to the bike and try to sell food, drinks, candy, knives, and hats. If you didn’t want anything, they would just stand there and wait until you did.”
The road stretched through a small village, so that came with its own challenges.
“The road ran behind a bunch of local houses, and right through local farmland as well,” he said. “The kids would be playing soccer on the road, and there was wildlife all around. The cows in the field would stare menacingly at us all day. I would do my best not to disturb them.”
Though the animals were less than enthused about the construction work, the locals had a completely different reaction.
“They would always wave at us, and they would have really big smiles on their faces,” he said. “They always seemed happy that we were there. I don’t know if it was because its different ... or if it was because we were helping construct and improve the road.”
Before they improved the road, the local people who used the unimproved road and would struggle to get around.
“Their wheels used to get stuck in the sand and it wouldn’t be that easy for them to move,” he said. “Especially with all the stuff on the back of their mopeds, like crops, food, drinks, and sometimes a whole family. That’s going to be hard, because it was all sand. Now that it’s all rock and it’s all aggregate, it’s a lot easier to transport stuff and travel.”
Though Shane knew that he wanted to reenlist it was 1st Lt. Reilly Rudolph, his platoon leader, who brought up the location idea. She suggested the top of Mount Ijen.
“I thought it would be a good idea … I’ve never reenlisted while on a mission and in a different country,” he said. “So, I thought, that'd be pretty cool. You know there was one downside to it, my wife couldn't be there. So, I asked her if it was okay, she said ‘that's fine, you don't need to worry about it, just do it.'”
Working on the road improvement project by day, when the evening would come, he would sit down with his computer and email his retention noncommissioned officer to work on finishing his reenlistment packet.
“When my retention NCO sent me my reenlistment packet, it was all my brother’s information,” he said. “If I wouldn’t have noticed, I would have accidentally reenlisted my brother, which wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.”
The big day came, Mount Ijen looking down at him.
“During our Indonesia mission, the whole platoon hiked to the top of the volcano, to one of two places in the world where blue fire is visible,” said Rudolph.
“There were so many people,” said Shane. “I was just motivated, very motivated, because I was the one that carried the flag up to the top as well.”
With headlamps of the crowds illuminating the trail ahead. Shane’s unit endured the long hike up Mount Ijen. It takes an average of two hours to hike up the 3 miles of steep switchbacks.
“It was a strenuous hike that we did in the middle of the night,” said Rudolph. “[Shane] Crawford refused to stop as he proudly carried the American Flag that he’d use for his reenlistment in his backpack.”
“I love the Army,” said Shane. “I love just the madness it involves every day of so many things going on. That you can handle at your own level to the best of your ability. I like to do it for the people back home. I like to do it for my wife. I like to do it for myself. I've had opportunities that would not have been available if I had not joined the Army.”
His legs bringing him up the soft well-worn path of the trail hiked on by many before him, Shane started reflecting on what brought him to this moment.
“Growing up, I didn’t really have much,” said Shane. “So, what I own today has all been through the Army and because of the Army. If it wasn't for the Army, I wouldn't be going to college. I wouldn't be getting a degree. I wouldn't have a car. Now, I wouldn't be married. I wouldn't be progressing in a career, so quickly. And I wouldn't have all the opportunities that I’ve had while being in the Army.”
Reaching the top of the mountain, looking out over Indonesia, they are surrounded by bright green foliage with the golden sun peeking above the horizon, bringing warmth to the freezing heights of the volcano. All the while, the deep bright turquoise acidic sulfur pit pluming clouds of gas out into the sky.
“It was crazy, because we had the whole platoon there,” said Shane. “I'm the one that's reenlisting with my hand out. I'm just trying to listen, and it was freezing. So, I was shaking trying to re-enlist. In the background behind her [Rudolph], there was a bunch of civilians.”
“My favorite memory with Crawford is having the privilege of reenlisting him at the top of Kawah Ijen,” said Rudolph. “Sergeant Crawford is such a special individual, so I wanted to make sure we could make his reenlistment memorable.”
“People watched from all different countries,” said Shane. “Just staring at me with an American flag behind me, and when I was done, there was a bunch of civilians that came up and even said congrats to me. And I had no idea of where they're from, who they are, just random people coming up and saying, congrats, from all around the world. It was insane.”
The flag was folded up and put back neatly in Shanes backpack, a proud symbol of America, displayed at the height of his career.
“I’ve done a lot of reenlistments, but this is one that I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Rudolph. “It was a great day celebrating a great Soldier.”
Back in Hawaii, Shawn Crawford, the uncertain twin brother, was left with a tough decision after seeing his brother reenlist.
“So, I never really thought if I wanted to reenlist or not,” said Shawn Crawford. “Then my brother reenlisted over in Indonesia, so I took it as he is going to stay in, so I might as well keep on the grind and stay in as well – become a better leader, and just a person and a man as a whole.”
Knowing that his brother had reenlisted, that ignited the flame that was waiting to be fueled in Shawn. He chose to stay in the Army with his brother, and though they are not going to be in the same unit, they both reenlisted for Germany at bases an hour apart.
While the Crawford brothers continue to lay down the foundation for their careers, the road project back in Indonesia was completed in August 2023.