Veterans Day Salute from FKCC President Dr. Jonathan Gueverra: “This Veterans Day, I encourage all to take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices that our service members bear for all Americans and for the principles of democracy. Our heroes continue to serve in a variety of ways that benefit our communities. I salute all of our veterans as well as current servicemen and women. I express my sincerest thanks to them and their families for their dedication and commitment, and for their continued service to protect our freedom.

The Florida Keys and the College have indeed benefitted from the contributions of many veterans over the years. Each one deserves special recognition. Today, I salute one particular local individual: Colonel Hunter Ledbetter, marine science and diving student, underwater photographer, and 31-year Marine Corps Veteran.

Long before Ledbetter became “Key West Photog” capturing breathtaking images of underwater marvels, he was dedicated to protecting our country. Coming from a long family history of military service dating back to the Revolutionary War (his mother was a Naval flight surgeon and his late father was an Electrician’s Mate First Class in the Coast Guard), Ledbetter continued the tradition by enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1982.

He rose to the rank of Colonel and was a Communications Officer before transitioning to dual careers in the Marine Reserves and in the government sector. Ledbetter served in the Gulf War and completed multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Equipped with a master’s degree in Russian literature, he held positions with the Office of Naval Intelligence, the State Department, and U.S. Central Command.

Upon his retirement in 2013, Ledbetter turned his “dive and fish” condo in Key West into his home and his hobby of underwater photography into a business. He began taking classes at FKCC using his G.I. Bill benefits. Initially, he was drawn to classes that were practical for his business, and helped him earn his captain’s license and scuba certification. But it was a chance encounter with a tiny Caribbean Reef Octopus mother in the College’s Dive Training Lagoon that broadened his interest and coursework in marine science. With support from FKCC faculty, he set out on a mission to chronicle and photograph the “octo-mama’s” journey from the painstaking hanging and care for dozens of eggs to the hatching of the pea-sized baby octopuses and ultimately her death—a sequence of events rarely seen or documented in the wild. Since then, Ledbetter has logged many hours underwater to document three more mother octopuses in the Lagoon—one of which is still brooding. The amazing images he has captured have earned rave reviews and viral sharing on social media. Perhaps more importantly, his work is inspiring more research opportunities at FKCC to learn more about the elusive sea creature.

In December, Ledbetter will graduate from FKCC with degrees in Marine Environmental Technology and Diving Business and Technology—to go along with certificates he already earned in research diving and dive instruction. He plans to remain an active member in the FKCC family—as an underwater photography instructor or as a volunteer to continue the octopus research he started.

It is with great honor that on this Veterans Day 2018, FKCC and I salute Marine Corps Colonel Hunter Ledbetter. Thank you for your continuous service to our country, state, and community. May such service, achievements, and generosity serve as an inspiration for all.”