SANTA ANA, Calif. — While his classmates at California State University, Fullerton, are scoping out sunny locations for spring break, Ronald Paul Larson arrived Monday in a very warm place.
Grilling, 120-degree heat is just a few weeks away. So why did Larson spend $1,403 for a round-trip airline ticket to Kuwait City?
He wants to cover a war.
Larson’s decision to practice journalism halfway around the globe came as he neared the end of course work for a master’s degree in history.
The studied pace of a college professor, his goal when he enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, has been replaced by a new aspiration — correspondent. At 39, he’s older than most of the other staff at the Daily Titan, but he’s perhaps the most driven.
Besides the airfare, he reached into his own wallet for a satellite telephone rental ($185 a month, $1.80 per minute), antenna, transmission data kit, adapter and batteries ($308) flak vest ($130) and a used Kevlar helmet ($85).
Pay will be a hearty thanks from the Daily Titan and perhaps two credits for “independent study.” After he has sent his dispatches to the Daily Titan, the paper will make them available to college newspapers around the nation.
He also will be writing for the Kenosha (Wis.) News, his hometown newspaper; Red Eye, a newspaper for young people in Chicago; and The Orange County Register.
Larson frets less about his safety than possible technological problems with his laptop computer, satellite telephone, video camera and 35mm still camera.
When he was told earlier this month that the Defense Department had accepted his application to cover the Middle East buildup, Larson said he was excited but also nervous that he might be getting in over his head.
“I still feel that way,” he said before leaving.
His parents and older sister, all back in Kenosha, where he grew up, are “worried, nervous and excited” about his trip, he said.
His editor and the Titan faculty adviser are confident.
“It’s a great opportunity for Ron and the Daily Titan,” said Professor Tom Clanin, the paper’s faculty adviser. “He’s going to focus on profiles and personalities — he will put a human face on the war.”
And he has seen combat.
After completing his Army service mostly guarding weapons in Germany, Larson journeyed to Afghanistan and spent a month taking pictures of Mujahedeen soldiers fighting the Soviet army.
“My job will be to explain what life is like for these soldiers,” he said. “I just hope my equipment will not break, and I will do a good job.”