Of the dozens of steps in Lieutenant Mark Tedrow’s Blue Angels preflight checklist, one is not standard.
Along with a need for speed, he has a need for coffee.
“Coffee is my fuel," he joked. "When I don’t have it, I feel like something’s missing in my day.”
Lt. Tedrow, and several members of the United States Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, tasted several coffees during a “cupping” at Starbucks headquarters. Cupping is the coffee industry’s standard technique for detecting the aromas and tastes of brewed coffee, explained Craig Russell, executive vice president, Starbucks Global Coffee.
Russell hosted Blue Angeles team members (July 29, 2014) who had a day off from practice as they prepare for the Boeing Seafair Airshow on Saturday and Sunday.
A total of 16 officers and over 100 enlisted personnel voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels. Each year an estimated 11 million spectators watch the squad of four Boeing F/A 18 jets fly in their trademark tight diamond formation. Two solo pilots “keep the crowd on the edge of their seats,” said Lt. Tedrow who is the “opposing solo” pilot in Blue Angel #6. The soloists fly the fastest speeds during the performance – between 700 and 750 miles per hour, and the slowest speeds – around 120 miles per hour.
“We’re all about maximum performance of the jets, making it look like we’re going to hit,” said Lt. Tedrow. “Getting the oohs and aahs is part of my job.”
It’s a job he began to imagine 14 years ago while a freshman at the U.S. Naval Academy. He recalled the moment he was walking around Annapolis, Maryland and a Blue Angel jet ripped through the sky at rooftop level.
“That was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and 14 years later, here I am. It’s a dream come true,” he said.
Lt. Tedrow joined the Blue Angels in September of 2011 and has accumulated more than 1,800 flight hours. His decorations include the Strike Flight Air Medal and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
“I didn’t come from a family with money or a military background,” he said. “I always point that out when I’m talking with students because I want them to believe if you have a dream in the back of your mind and if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything.”
Education isn’t the glamorous part of flying with the Blue Angels, but that is what’s important to Lieutenant Commander Michael Cheng.
“Everybody is in awe of the jets, and they should be, but they’re just a tool to inspire excellence and service to the country,” he said.
Crowds look to the sky to watch the elite squad perform, but they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes as pilots visit schools and hospitals. While the Blue Angels hope to motivate young men and women to pursue a career in naval aviation or the military, LCDR Cheng said the greater goal is to “inspire excellence in all areas of their lives.”
“In many ways our aspirational goals are similar to what Starbucks is doing,” he said.
Many members of the Blue Angels team who visited Starbucks heard for the first time about Starbucks commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and active duty spouses by the end of 2018.
“We are grateful for their service to this country, but more than that we are hiring veterans and military spouses because we need them,” said John Kelly, Starbucks senior vice president, Global Responsibility and Public Policy. “We’re a better company because of the veterans who’ve joined us.”
Lt. Tedrow isn’t ready to think about what's next after his career with the U.S. Navy. The pilot, who handles a $21 million dollar fighter jet, admits the idea of doing something different after many years of service is “a little intimidating.”
“I feel for the military men and women who are trying to start something entirely new as a second career,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see what Starbucks is doing. I was already a Starbucks fan, but doing something to help veterans is truly a mark of a great company.”