Navy Lt. Mark Tedrow, a Charleroi native, had not given much thought to being a pilot after he finished his first year at the Naval Academy.
Then, while strolling in Annapolis, a Blue Angel roared by. He -- and everyone else -- stopped dead in their tracks, watching the blue and gold jet streak by.
"In that moment, I think it was just the power of the machine and the people's respect for that. Everyone just kind of stopped what they were doing as the jet flew over and were sort of awestruck ... as it kind of ripped down the street," he said.
Right then and there he decided he wanted to be a Blue Angel, a goal he achieved a decade later in September 2011 after logging hundreds of hours of training and being deployed to missions in the Middle East and western Pacific.
Lt. Tedrow is one of a handful of Western Pennsylvanians making a homecoming this week as part of the Blue Angels team for Saturday's Westmoreland County Air Show at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, where the team hopes to inspire the next generation of aviators, sailors and Marines.
He joins Petty Officer 1st Class Rachel McMarr, a communications specialist from Crafton Heights; Petty Officer 1st Class Jon Mocek, a hospital corpsman from Indiana, Pa.; and Martin Patterson, a civilian Boeing consultant from Pittsburgh.
Petty Officer McMarr joined the Navy at 19 because she said she was burned out after working full time while attending Carlow University. The Navy would pay for her education and offered her the opportunity to travel to Italy, where she worked at a base television station.
But none of those assignments seemed to match coming home to Western Pennsylvania, where her family will have the opportunity to see her work.
"We're hand-picked ... the best of the fleet," she said. "They can't believe that their daughter is a member of the Blue Angels."
A standout football player at Charleroi High School, Lt. Tedrow had his pick of several schools but chose the U.S. Naval Academy.
Standing on the scorching tarmac at Arnold Palmer airport of Thursday, he said the opportunity to play Division I football and serve his country "was really a win-win for me."
He has served on missions where he was based on an aircraft carrier and flew in support of troops in southern Afghanistan.
"Nothing can compare" to flying in combat, he said. "You're using all the training and all your power ... every piece of energy and anything you can imagine to protect our troops on the ground."
Lt. Tedrow said he savors his role with the Blue Angels, too. As an advance pilot, he arrives at show sites ahead of time to ensure the other pilots can come prepared for the show. He's also in charge of flying around media and celebrities. Actor Sean Astin, country music star Kellie Pickler and KDKA reporter Heather Abraham have all been passengers.
Still, the Blue Angels mostly perform for ordinary folks, he said.
"We go to show sites throughout the United States, show sites like Latrobe where there isn't a huge military presence ... so we can bring what we do to folks' backyards," Lt. Tedrow said. "It's very rewarding to go out in these small communities ... to see how excited people are and how much we inspire them."
While the spectacle inspires awe, "the end goal is recruitment," he said.
Recruitment has been up since the economy declined. At the same time, the military is downsizing, so there are fewer opportunities.
That fact isn't likely to detract from the spectacle. Thursday, the roar of the jets as they zipped around the airport drew from nearby office buildings people who stood in the scorching sun with their necks craned to the sky.
The Westmoreland County Air Show runs Saturday and Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity, with gates opening at 9 a.m. The Blue Angels will perform as the final act each day at 3 p.m.
Moriah Balingit: email@example.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published June 22, 2012 4:00 AM