YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz. — Conducting natural environment testing in the world’s most extreme environments requires the concerted efforts of rugged professionals. The punishing conditions where the personnel at U.S. Army Tropic Regions Test Center, or TRTC, spend their work life are especially challenging.
“Everybody in this organization is multi-hatted,” said Ernest Hugh, TRTC director. “Not only are they engineers, they’re photographers, they’re vehicle operators, they clear trails. They do a little bit of everything, are very good at it, and have a lot of experience doing it. Carlos Mora is a prime example of this.”
After 17 years at TRTC, Mora has conducted developmental tropical tests on everything from military vehicles and small arms to tents and radios.
“Testing in the tropics is a continuous fight against environmental elements,” he said. “We encounter rain, fungi and fauna, lightning storms and humidity, and the combination of some at the same time.”
The humidity and precipitation of tropical regions aren’t the only factors that need to be considered when designing things for troops. High heat and a salt-rich atmosphere also contribute to rapidly-growing jungle molds and fungi. How will an item fare in acidic jungle mud, surrounded by insects that eat anything organic and seek warm areas to nest?
“As in any other test, it is our responsibility to address any issue that could affect the performance of the item during a mission or threaten a Soldier’s safety,” said Mora.
He began the job after graduating from the Technological University of Panama, where he had earned a civil engineering degree after a lifelong interest in the subject.
“I always liked construction, since I was a kid,” Mora said. “Everything started with Legos — that has to be a part of every kid’s life. I’ve always loved math and was very curious.”
In addition to testing in the tropics, Mora has traveled to Yuma Test Center to support testing or for training on systems bound for TRTC after undergoing evaluations in the desert.
“I have been in Yuma a lot of times, but my last trip was the one where I really went out to see nature. I think every human being should go to the desert and have that experience. It totally changes the way you think and really makes you appreciate the resources we think are given at no price.”
While he shoots test photos and video regularly at work, Mora is also an avid photographer in his spare time.
“Carlos’ real passion is photography,” said Rolando Ayala, TRTC senior test officer.
Artistic photos of his family, stunning vistas of tropical beauty and arrestingly composed slice-of-life vignettes from city streets are all part of his portfolio.
“It started as a hobby and grew into a very good part of my life,” he said. “I’m very active with it and always trying to give the most time I can to it.”
He was exposed to the medium through his father, who retired as the official photographer for the president of Panama in 2015.
“For the past six or seven presidents of Panama, he was part of the personnel who took care of photography,” said Mora. “It gave him the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet all types of people. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
As for his photography at work, samples of some of his more dramatic images of combat vehicles plowing through a muddy jungle test course have found homes on display at Yuma Proving Ground.
“I know some of the pictures have made it to the command group and other places in Yuma. It makes me feel very good that people are able to have a perspective on how things look here in the tropics.”
Mora enjoys his work and has no plans to leave the rugged jungles where TRTC conducts tests.
“I really never had an idea I was going to end up working where I work, to the point that I call myself a test engineer instead of a civil engineer when people ask me what I do,” said Mora. “It’s been my whole career.”