By Mr. Mark Schauer (ATEC)April 11, 2018
YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- Three months into his tenure as the proving ground's highest ranking civilian, U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) Technical Director Lazaro "Larry" Bracamonte is bullish on the post's prospects.
"I see the future as bright for us," he said. "People are concerned about the budget, but having been here over 30 years, I've seen this before. We will always be testing at YPG."
This month marks Bracamonte's 31st year at YPG, and he says the proving ground has made enormous gains in professionalism and capabilities since he began. When he was a project engineer for the Munitions and Weapons test branch, the high speed cameras that provide instant, high resolution images of a projectile leaving a tube were almost unimaginable, as were precision guided munitions accurate to within mere meters of a target.
"In my early days, I had a program where my photo budget was in the neighborhood of $50,000 to $60,000 per month to buy film and have it processed," said Bracamonte. "You might be able to get the film developed in six to eight hours, but usually it was a 24 hour turnaround. Today the imagery is instantaneous, with better clarity: These cameras cost a lot of money, but so did the cameras we were using back in the day."
A significant portion of his time here was during the direst days of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Soldiers and Marines saw threats first from rockets and mortars, then from devastating improvised explosive devices. The Department of Defense rapidly tested technologies to defeat these threats and rapidly fielded armored vehicles to mitigate their destructive power: YPG testers and supporting personnel routinely worked 60 and 70-hour work weeks over the course of years to meet or exceed the critically tight schedules.
"We're a continuously improving organization," he said. "We strive for excellence."
A Yuma native, Bracamonte showed interest in mechanics at an early age.
"As a kid, I had a passion for shooting rockets and coming up with contraptions that did things. One of my friends' dad would buy old cars in various states of disarray, and helping him fix those cars while I was in high school taught me a lot."
After graduating from Yuma High School in 1981, he went to the University of Arizona and majored in mechanical engineering.
"I enjoyed math and science and wanted to continue that after high school," he said. "I looked at the possibility of being a mathematician or a physicist, but I saw engineering as combining both subjects. After my first year in college, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Degree in hand, he returned home in 1987 and started at YPG testing tank ammunition.
"My plan was to make a little money, stay a year or two, and then move on somewhere else. But when I actually started working here, it was very exciting and challenging. I really, really liked the job, and stayed."
As the years progressed, Bracamonte was promoted numerous times. From team leader to branch chief, then division chief. He attended a prestigious course of study at Cranfield University at the United Kingdom's Royal Military College of Science, then became the Ground Combat Systems director prior to being elevated to his current position. Just prior to this, he worked a detail as the Associate Director of Test Management at the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), YPG's senior command, which he described as an awareness-raising experience.
"The people of ATEC work late hours so we can have a smoother operation at YPG. I've always appreciated them, but having the opportunity to serve with them and see what they do for us gave me a deeper appreciation. It was a good experience."
YPG's mission is growing in a variety of areas, particularly in the long range precision fires, counter-unmanned aircraft and mine-countermine missions. Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar (C-RAM) testing is also expanding. The proving ground is currently testing artillery projectiles with dramatically longer ranges than in years past, with aspirations to achieve ranges that will ultimately exceed the boundaries of YPG's land and air space.
"We have opened up a partnership with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range on a non-interference basis that has allowed us to fire long-range projectiles, and we have also used our sister test center White Sands Missile Range to accommodate longer range shots that we cannot accommodate at YPG. The proving ground is also currently exploring nearby areas off the proving ground for use as gun positions."
Through all the evolutions and changes, Bracamonte stresses that safety will always remain YPG's deepest emphasis.
"Safety is a culture at YPG," he said. "Our motto is that everyone goes home at the end of the day, and we live by that. We work in an inherently dangerous environment, whether it is firing a projectile, preparing ammunition, or cleaning up a range: even in the commute to work every day it is important to emphasize safety."
As it has done since 1943, YPG will continue to test virtually every piece of equipment that warfighters count on.
"Everybody at YPG strives to produce the best product we can for our Soldiers," said Bracamonte." He or she is our ultimate customer, and everyone here knows that doing their work correctly means a Soldier can perform their mission safely and successfully."