WASHINGTON – For many, the decision to concentrate on a profession takes years. For Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Aaron Belford, it came in a flash.
“Photography has always been in my life,” said Belford, the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron substance abuse control officer and a Minneapolis native. “My mom was a commercial artist, and she used to do ad campaigns, so she would work with a ton of photographers. I would go to work with her, because she was a single mom who couldn’t afford a babysitter. This is where I first saw a bunch of styles of photography.”
Belford said he “stole” one of his mother’s cameras. “From then on,” he added, “I just went around and took photos of everything.”
The 9/11 attacks were the biggest factor in his 2004 decision to enlist in the Marine Corps, Belford said. “A tradition of my family is when your country needs you, you serve in the military,” he explained. “This is why I joined.”
Once Belford joined the Marine Corps, he didn’t stop with this hobby. Instead, he used his service as a way to broaden his photography skills. “The Marines was a great choice,” he said. “It gave me opportunities to shoot new, interesting things.”
When he deployed to Iraq in 2006, he did just that.
“We didn’t have Combat Camera out there,” Belford said. “I did all the camera work there with military operations. I was basically a mini Combat Camera.”
After his deployment, he turned his hobby of photography into a profitable profession. He also began a family, he said, and balancing the Corps, his hobby and his loved ones is a challenge.
“It’s hard to have a family, the Marine Corps and my photos,” said the father of a 2-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. “It takes balance to handle them all and is really challenging. That’s where the principle of ‘adapt and overcome’ comes to play.”
The Marine Corps has given him a valuable skill, Belford said, one of many he has integrated into his photography.
“I have learned something as simple as project managing,” he said. “I can see an end product and know how to reverse engineer to get to that end result. … I can focus on my task but still watch everyone else. Before the Marine Corps, I would never have been able to do that.”
One piece of advice has helped him become successful, Belford said: “Try to find the craziest dream you have and do it. Look at why you can do it, and not why you can’t.”
Belford is slated to leave the Marine Corps Oct. 1 and plans to open a business based on action photography.
“I want to be hanging out of a helicopter upside-down, going 300 mph, shooting photos of an all-terrain vehicle,” he said. “That is the kind of photography I want to do.”