On our recent trip to San Diego to give back to our military heroes, we were surprised to hear that we were being hosted by the Padres for a game against the Cardinals. We found out that the man behind the gift was Captain Jack.
To San Diego fans, Captain Jack is the well-known Director of Military Marketing for the San Diego Padres – reportedly the only such position in professional sports. The military is a fixture at Padres games, thanks to several corporate sponsorships and Captain Jack, the fellow who coordinates it all. Players sometimes even play in camoflauge uniforms instead of wearing their home jerseys as a tribute to those who serve.
Jack Ensch, his real name, is a fixture at several military events in the area including Fleet Week and other military-related venues. But it wasn’t until I did a little digging did I discover that there is much more to Captain Jack than a Padres parking space.
Captain Jack Ensch, USN (retired) was commissioned in 1965. A year later he received his wings and designation as a Naval Flight Officer. Thus commenced a career spanning three decades in service to the country.
But that’s not the half of it.
According to a Fleet Week news release, Captain Ensch flew 285 combat missions and was credited with shooting down two MiG-17s before being shot down by a Surface to Air missile in 1972. His pilot, Mike Doyle, was killed but Jack survived and was held as a POW in Hanoi until his release in 1973…the last group of POWs released.
After recovering he returned to duty and completed a sterling career that included Top Gun and command of the Naval Training Center. He had over 800 carrier landings, but as Tom Cushman of the San Diego Union said, it was, “one short of a total he’d prefer.”
The Padres eventually took him on to attract military families to the game, and the rest is history. His impact has been so significant that the team is unofficially known as, “The Team of the Military.” (Fleet Week news release)
When USS MIDWAY was moved to its final berth across the bay from Coronado, destined to become the USS MIDWAY Museum, Jack and his wife were aboard. On the carrier’s deck sat an F-4 Phantom, the same type of aircraft in which he had once flown. (As it turns out, he had actually logged twenty hours of combat in that very jet.) Under the NFO’s window was painted, “LT Jack Ensch.”
When Jack was shot down many years ago, he had flown off the deck of USS MIDWAY. He told the San Diego Union, “It was the first time I’d been aboard since the day we were shot down. That was the only time I took off from a carrier and didn’t return.
“So, when I walked back onto the ship (32 years later), I counted it as my last landing. That finally closed out my logbook.”
Captain Jack continues his support of the military to this day. Through his efforts the public learns about the sacrifices military members and their families make every day. And servicemen and women are reminded how much they are appreciated.
Captain Jack Ensch, USN (ret) is our hero of the week.
(For a fantastic article about CAPT Ensch, read Tom Cushman’s story, “Captain Jack salutes Padres’ military outreach efforts.”)