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|| News Item: Posted 2008-10-03

'I Get to do What?'
Jared Dort spent a day with the marines.

By Jared Dort, The Sun

Photo by Jared Dort / The Sun

Photo by Jared Dort / The Sun

Lance Corpral Reddy catches up on his book during dinner time at YPG.
A young Marine came up to me in the beginning of August and claimed that I had one of the coolest jobs in the world. An hour later he was picking off an airplane with a missile.

I think he was just being nice.

One of the most unique opportunities I've ever had presented itself this past month. It wasn't even on my assignment calendar, just passed via word of mouth by my boss, who said, "Take plenty of water with you Saturday. You'll be spending the day with the Marines."

I haven't spent more than a few hours on any assignment since I moved to Yuma in April, so I knew this was either big, or out in the middle of nowhere.

It was both.

Still clueless as to what kind of shoot would take all day, I asked what kind of shoot would take all day.

"The Marines are blowing up stuff."

That was good enough for me.

Saturday, August 3rd arrived. Me, my cameras, lenses, video and enough water to choke a camel, loaded up in a government truck ready for a two-hour ride to the middle of nowhere - or the Yuma Proving Grounds (YPG) for those familiar with the area.

The first question asked when I arrived to the base, "Did you bring plenty of water?" Having been with the Marines before, I knew the importance of this question, which I'll explain in a bit.

YPG owns a wilderness of land between Blythe, CA, and Yuma. There, the Army tests just about everything imaginable, and they often loan sections to other branches of the military to train. YPG offers conditions similar to those in the Middle East. I did the math, and that means I live in an area akin to Iraq.

I was there for Day 4 of a five-day training exercise involving the 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battalion of Camp Pendleton. The Marines were testing stinger missiles out in the desert.

Our Public Affairs Officer, Sgt. Rocky Smith of MCAS, gave us a lot of room to work, which was great. When you get to stand on top of a Hummer while a 50-caliber machine gun was pumping rounds of ammo at a plane, that's access.

With three hours to kill before the missile show, I was thinking slideshow. I ditched the rest of the media accompanying our group to look for photos. My first find was the contractors hired to build more than 100 drones, scaled to Russian MIG 23 jet fighters. That's a thankless job.

Decked-out in a helmet, goggles and beginner's flak jacket, I hit the firing range next, where the drones were flown in remotely and taken down with machine guns.

Photo by Jared Dort / The Sun

Photo by Jared Dort / The Sun

A drone flies over the Marine command post at YPG en route to an open area where stinger missiles will open fire.
After the rounds it was dinnertime, beefsteak, at the command post. If you've never had an MRE (Made ready to eat) meal before, I suggest trying one. You'll never complain about your wife's cooking again. Avoid the omelet.

I chatted with some of the Marines about dinner, being in the service and the silver bullet. Avoid that, too. The bullet only comes out when someone goes down with heat stroke or dehydration and is the best way to check a person's temperature - rectally. Hence the reason for all the water I brought.

I'll move on now.

The LAAD set up to fire on 18 drones that night with the stinger missiles, which was the reason we were there. I set up on the hill and ran a slow shutter speed to catch the missile firing and the explosion. I had 18 chances to get it right, which was good because I didn't bring a tripod. Note: An ice chest and rock can be used as an emergency tripod.

When drone No. 8 went down, I chimped and saw I got one good shot for the paper and one for the slideshow. With all the attention on the missiles out in the open range, no one noticed the amazing setting of the command post. I turned my attention to that and made something different. There was a clear sky, stars and kind of an aurora lights thing going on at the post. On top of that, the drone was flying overhead first before heading out. It was amazing.

I got home a little before midnight and crashed. Having done next to nothing in a day, compared to the Marines who were camped out in the desert for five, I have a newfound respect for what they go through. I've never been to boot camp, or for that matter, camping for more than two days at a time. These guys were toughing it out during one of the hottest months in Yuma just to be ready, just in case they were deployed.

It made me wonder what our troops go through on a daily basis over in Iraq, where the battle is. It made me realize just how serious our military is when it comes to being prepared for battle when they send their troops overseas.

With the coming election, struggling economy and continual layoffs in our industry, we often forget what freedom really costs. For the men and women in the service, it's their dedication, and sometimes, their lives.

My day with the Marines was just another day for them. Not for me.

NOTE: You can check out the slideshow of my day with the 3rd LAAD Battalion at

(Jared Dort is staff photographer for the Yuma Sun in AZ and member 269 on, meaning he took an extra day to sign-up when the website first went live. His portfolio was dismantled by Rick Rickman early in his career, and after whining to his wife about the bad man, decided to become a better photographer. You can see his work on his member page: and visit his personal website and blog:

Related Links:
Jared's member page

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