Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Friday awarded government employees who acted courageously to protect other citizens in dangerous situations.
Johnson, alongside Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, presented the DHS Secretary Award to 13 recipients from across the country.
“It’s a really great honor, I was really surprised. It all happened really fast. I’ve got a lot of family here to be able to come,” said Petty Officer Benjamin Jacober.
Jacober, who is an operations specialist in the Coast Guard, was on a beach in Panama City, Florida, with friends when he saw a woman in the water calling for help and struggling to stay afloat.
“Before I realized what I was doing, I was up to my neck in water swimming out there to grab her. So I got to her, found her and pulled her back in,” Jacober said.
Transportation Security Officer Justin Sawhill was driving home one morning when he noticed a vehicle fire that was spreading to a nearby house in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania. Sawhill was able to alert and rescue the family inside the home.
The ceremony also had special meaning to Citizenship and Immigration Support Specialist Jennifer Tran and Jackie Hisey.
After noticing a fellow employee and Iraq War veteran did not show up to work, Tran and Hisey went to check on him. Their concern for their colleague ended up saving his life, as he was trying to commit suicide.
“We did it as a team, and we helped each other through it,” Hisey said. She added, “We didn’t expect it because we just wanted to help out a fellow employee.”
Hisey has experience working with suicidal military personnel, which helped her get through this incident.
Johnson launched the DHS Secretary Award for Valor two years ago. It is considered the highest recognition for acts of valor committed by employees on and off duty.