Mark McDermott

Manhattan Beach Mustang turned Marine Chad Jensen remembered

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Chad Jensen holding up a teammate as they celebrate their 2009 state championship. Photo from the Mira Costa yearbook/courtesy MBUSD

 

Chad Jensen led as Mustang,

then as a Marine

by Mark McDermott

Members of the Mira Costa family will gather Saturday afternoon to remember Chad Jensen, a member of the 2009 state championship Mustang football squad who went on to become a U.S. Marine Corps special operations commando.

Jensen was one of 15 Marines who died en route to a training mission on July 10 when the KC-130 Hercules aircraft they were aboard crashed in Mississippi. A Marine Corps spokesperson said in a statement that the KC-130 “experienced a mishap” but as yet has provided no further details.

Jenson served with the 2nd Raider Battalion, Special Operations Command, based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The plane he was on was on its way to El Centro, California, when it went down in a soybean field in rural Mississipi.

Jensen, 25, was scheduled for deployment in Afganhistan this fall. He entered the Marines after graduation in 2009. Serving in the Corps had long been his dream. One of his Mustang teammates, James Franklin, remembered Jensen telling him of his plans to join the Marines early on in high school. It was a decision that would later impact Franklin’s life; after a stint at El Camino College, he contacted Jensen to ask about the Marines.

“He told me there’s good times and some bad times, but the bad times you get over pretty quickly, so it’s a pretty solid gig,” Franklin recalled. “I said, okay, I’ll sign up.”

Franklin thought he’d do one enlistment but instead the Marines have become a successful career for him. He’s based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar and works on helicopters and airplanes. He has a wife and two children and credits his friend for his good fortune.

“I have a world to thank him for,” Franklin said. “My wife, my two daughters —  I owe a lot to him.”

Jensen was likewise a quietly influential leader of that special 2009 Mustang squad. A Redondo Beach native, he didn’t know a lot of the other kids when he joined the football program as a freshman. He already had his sights set on being a center, one of the toughest positions in football and, despite its lack of glory, most critical.

“On the field, he was always putting out 110 percent —  he was not stopping the play until he heard the whistle, and would sometimes go beyond that,” Franklin said. “He was kind of quiet but a leader, as well —  at center, he pulled lead, especially at the line, always putting forth effort and keeping everyone amped and ready to go…He was a main motivator.”

Joe Franklin, Jame’s father, had coached AYSO, baseball, and basketball, and as a coach and a parent saw a special quality in that 2009 Mustang squad, even before they’d won state. He said Jensen exemplified the team and that his draw to the Marine Corps was in keeping with the way he carried himself as a teammate.

“Those players on that that team —  I could tell it was a unique group of athletes, but no one was a star,” Franklin said. “There wasn’t that one standout star, nobody like that on that team —  just a solid, cohesive team that worked hard and shared the same ethic. It seemed that could just do amazing things. That is what the Marine Corps is —  you’ve got to trust the guy to your left and to your right. You know, under  fire, that someone has your back.”

“That is the kind of man Chad was. He had your back. He literally led the way —  the center leads the way on so many plays. Plus he had to hike the ball, and so he was always exposed —  the center is always the first one going to get clobbered. The offensive line is just one of those thankless jobs, but he did it with such enthusiasm, without complaining, always laughing. We were all just so proud of him.”

Jensen took the infantry track in the Marines, rather than a support role, and gravitated to the elite Special Ops unit, the USMC equivalent of the Navy Seals.

“Those are the toughest of the tough guys,” Joe Franklin said. “They are the ones that go storming in…Foward base. They are the leading edge of everything that is going on.”

Always a robust kid, he grew into a leaner, chiselled man.

“As a Marine, he just looked like a shredded machine,” James Franklin said.

James recalled the last time he saw Jensen, three years ago, at Miramar; the two friends didn’t realize they were both at that base until they bumped into one another at a ceremony.

“He said, ‘Franklin!’ and I was like, ‘Chadders?’ He’d lost so much weight I barely recognized him,” Franklin said.

Those on the Special Ops track become sort of “ghosts” within the larger Corps, and the two friends largely lost touch as Jensen followed his path to the highest echelon of Marine training.

“This kid was a true American and a true patriot,” Chuck Arrasmith, Jenson’s offensive line coach at Mira Costa, told the Daily Breeze. “He was a man for others. He was a man who doesn’t see a ceiling in his life. He just keeps breaking through and achieving more.”

Jensen is survived by his wife, Jessica, and a stepson, according to his Facebook page. A memorial will be held at the Mira Costa Football field (1401 Artesia Blvd. Manhattan Beach) at 2 p.m. August 20.

A GoFundMe has been launched in order to establish The Chad Elliott Jenson Memorial Scholarship, which will be awarded each year to a Mira Costa High School scholar-athlete who exemplifies commitment, leadership, community service and Esprit de Corps. See gofundme.com/chad-elliott-jenson-mem-scholarship.

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