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Recognizing the Heroes Among Us

By Andrea Primer, Special to the Independent

 

Patriots’ Day Parade grand marshal Capt. Jason Ehret greets well-wishers during a brunch on Sunday.

Patriots’ Day Parade grand marshal Capt. Jason Ehret greets well-wishers during a brunch on Sunday.

Capt. Jason Ehret, a decorated active duty Navy SEAL commander deployed to undertake secret tasks around the globe, returned to his boyhood town this past  Sunday to receive the honorable title of grand marshal in Laguna Beach’s upcoming Patriots’ Day Parade.

The brunch at Tivoli Terrace to spotlight all the honorees in the March 2 event recognized several locals and their outstanding achievements.

Charles Quilter, vice president of the Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Association, described their many accomplishments, starting with Laguna Beach High School student and football player, Drake Martinez, who was selected as the parade’s athlete of the Year. Martinez has played both offense and defense on the team and has recently committed to a scholarship offer from the University of Nebraska.

Next to be honored was the Pageant of the Masters, which for 80 years has put on shows and contributed to the town’s art community. Quilter thanked all the artists, but specifically those men and women who work behind the scenes.

The junior citizens of the year award went to Michelle Brown and Brock Csira, both seniors at Laguna Beach High School. These students were nominated and selected by faculty and staff at the high school, and recognized for their academic accomplishments, as well as their work in the community.

Citizens of the year, Arnold and Bonnie Hano, were recognized for their work in preserving the natural wilderness greenbelt that surrounds Laguna. The Hanos have been loyal to the environment and community since 1955.

The patriot of the year, Capt. Joseph A. Pursch, U.S. Navy Medical Corps, was described as an unsung hero, who helped save many lives through his work in the medical field. Pursch, after immigrating to the U.S. with $2.73 in his pocket and not a world of English, devoted his career to working in his specialty of neuropsychiatry.

American Legion Post 222 Commander Bob McIntosh with Capt. Jason Ehret, who will lead the annual parade on March 2.

American Legion Post 222 Commander Bob McIntosh with Capt. Jason Ehret, who will lead the annual parade on March 2.

Ehret, 48, a native of Glendale, grew up in Laguna. He graduated from the high school, in 1984, where he was captain of the water polo team. He earned an engineering degree in 1988 from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, but decided to pursue a career in naval aviation, an interest he gained from the frequent Marine jets that flew over his home. He underwent aviation officer candidate training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, where he won a commission and the wings of a naval flight officer.

Ehret’s first fleet assignment was as a navigator and tactical combat control officer flying in P-3C Orion aircraft from Adak, Alaska, trailing Soviet submarines. He was a member of the crew that tracked the last Akula-class ballistic missile submarine from Vladivostok at the end of the cold war. After this mission ended, Ehret undertook the first step to becoming a SEAL, the grueling basic underwater demolition training, with the drop out rate at 70 to 80 percent.

Before Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed in May 2011 by members of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, many people were unfamiliar with SEAL teams, as they are commonly known. There are roughly 2,500 active Navy SEALS, among them Ehret.

After becoming a fully qualified SEAL officer authorized to wear the coveted gold trident SEAL badge, Ehret commanded units from platoons to special boat teams. During his career Ehret has been deployed to the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other, more secret, locations.

As Quilter, a former marine officer, explained Ehret’s job, he urged the audience not to ask Ehret about the specifics of his work, and Ehret nodded in agreement.

On the surface, Ehret is an animated and approachable guy. Ehret and his eye-catching array of colorful ribbons displayed on his uniform seemed to personify the title of grand marshal. His kids watched as their father shook the hands of most everyone in the room and accepted a plaque from the association. Ehret was humbled by the recognition. “I don’t know why you want to write about me; there are way more interesting people in this room.”

 

Mission Viejo resident Andrea Primer is an Indy intern and UC Irvine student.

 

Photos by Matt Cole

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