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Secretary Johnson Presents Award for Valor

Release Date: May 14, 2015

For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
Contact: 202-282-8010

Secretary Johnson Presents Award for Valor
On May 14, 2015, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson presented the 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary’s Award for Valor to 12 outstanding individuals who have displayed exceptional valor either while serving the Department, or while off-duty acting only as a concerned citizen willing to help those in need.  DHS Photo by Barry Bahler, Office of Public Affairs. (DHS Photo by Barry Bahler/Released)
WASHINGTON— Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson today presented the 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary’s Award for Valor to 12 outstanding individuals who have displayed exceptional valor either while serving the Department, or while off-duty acting only as a concerned citizen willing to help those in need. 

“The Secretary’s Award for Valor is the highest honor to recognize those who have put others before themselves, integrity and duty above all else,” said Secretary Johnson.  “Like so many others at the Department who preserve our freedoms and protect the Homeland with integrity and respect, the Valor awardees performed well beyond what is expected, responding in extraordinary action to help another in need.  It is an honor to shake their hands today and thank them for their selfless service.”

Joined by Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and DHS senior leadership, Secretary Johnson recognized ten DHS employees and two citizens for their actions of courage during 2013 and 2014. Some of their selfless actions saved individuals from harm, rescued another’s life, or protected infrastructure in support of the nation’s security.

The following individuals, listed by component order, received the 2015 Secretary’s Award for Valor, the highest recognition from the Department for extraordinary acts of valor:

Michael Hedlund

CBP Officer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Duty Station: Calexico, Calif.
Hometown: Portland, Ore.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer Michael Hedlund observed a military jet rapidly descending in a nose dive and crashing into a residential area in Imperial Valley, Calif. on June 4, 2014. Officer Hedlund rushed to the crash site where he observed a crater in the street and multiple fires. He quickly blocked traffic with his vehicle and immediately began evacuating nearby homes, assisting homeowners in the removal of people and animals. 

Jerome Schmitt

Border Patrol Agent, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Duty Station: Tucson, Ariz.
Hometown: Hubbell, Mich.

On March 22, 2014, CBP Border Patrol Agent Jerome Schmitt responded to a request for assistance at the Sasabe, Ariz., Port of Entry, by providing medical assistance to a U.S. citizen that had sustained multiple gunshot wounds while in Mexico. Border Patrol Agent Schmitt provided lifesaving medical care for two hours until further medical assistance could arrive.     

Christopher Pandolfi

HSI Special Agent, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement

Duty Station: Burlington, Vt.
Hometown: South Burlington, Vt.

Karl Gardner

Vermont State Police

Duty Station: Burlington, Vt.
Hometown: Groton, Vt.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Christopher Pandolfi, along with Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant Karl Gardner observed a vehicle engulfed in flames while driving on Interstate 89 in Vermont on Feb. 25, 2015. The two stopped their vehicle to control traffic and render aid. They noticed an elderly man at the rear of the burning vehicle and instructed him to move away from the vehicle. The man had previously suffered a stroke and was having difficulty walking. Agent Pandolfi and Sergeant Gardner then carried the man to a safe location before the vehicle exploded. At that time the man informed Pandolfi and Gardner there had been a propane tank and ammunition inside the vehicle. 

Kevin Adams

Inspector, National Protection and Programs Directorate Federal Protective Service

Duty Station: Alexandria, Va.
Hometown: Hollywood, Md.

National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Federal Protective Service (FPS) Inspector Kevin Adams was traveling home after a 10-hour shift on Nov. 9, 2014, when he noticed an unoccupied car on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge outside of Washington, D.C. As he passed the vehicle, he noticed a woman sitting on the railing of the bridge. Inspector Adams stopped to offer assistance, activated his emergency lights, and called for backup. As he approached the woman, she made a motion to jump off the bridge. Inspector Adams grabbed the back of her coat to stop her. She then unzipped her coat and pulled her left arm out, and then Inspector Adams grabbed her right arm to keep her from jumping. The woman made a third attempt to jump from the bridge. Finally, Inspector Adams was able to convince the woman to step away from the edge of the bridge and receive help.    

Jerry Bartgis

Area Commander, National Protection and Programs Directorate Federal Protective Service

Duty Station: Martinsburg, W.V.
Hometown: Mount Airy, Md.

NPPD FPS Area Commander Jerry Bartgis was on duty on Dec. 12, 2014 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Frederick, Md., when an employee was terminated. Following the termination notice, the employee left the building. Approximately ten minutes later, she was seen sitting on the ledge of a balcony outside the building. When she stood on the ledge Area Commander Bartgis and another agent grabbed her arms to prevent her from jumping. When she pulled away several times Bartgis reached over the railing and pulled the employee back to safety. 

Carol Richel

Supervisory Transportation Security Officer, Transportation Security Administration

Duty Station: New Orleans
Hometown: Ignace, Mich.

Lieutenant Heather Sylve

Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office

Duty Station: New Orleans
Hometown: Gretna, La.

On March 20, 2015 a deranged man armed with wasp spray, a machete and a backpack full of molotov cocktails stormed the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. As he attempted to force his way through the checkpoint, he wielded the machete at bystanders, including supervisory transportation security officer Carol Richel and her coworkers.

Richel’s first instinct was to ensure the safety of others. While running to distract the attacker, Richel was grazed by a bullet. Even while bleeding from her injury, Richel got up, picked up her radio and went back to secure her post. After receiving medical treatment, Richel came back to work the very next day.

Witnessing the incident that day, was Jefferson Parrish Sheriff's Deputy Lieutenant Heather Sylve, who responded immediately. Within seconds, Sylve fired three shots that stopped the man that was inches away from striking TSA officer Richel with the machete.

Lieutenant Sylve probably saved not only Richel’s life, but stopped the man from inflicting further catastrophic damage. In the aftermath of the event, law enforcement officials located molotov cocktails and smoke bombs in white’s vehicle and in a bag he left on the concourse.

Maxwell Kaczmarek

Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class, U.S. Coast Guard

Duty Station: McKinleyville, Calif.
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

While off-duty on Sept. 13, 2014, U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class Maxwell Kaczmarek noticed a man in distress approximately 150 yards from the shoreline in McKinleyville, Calif. Without any rescue gear, Kaczmarek immediately ran into the water and swam to the man to render assistance. When he reached the man, he realized two others were attempting rescue and were being pulled under water in the process. Kaczmarek gained control of the drowning individual, who weighed 280 pounds, freeing the other two individuals to swim to the safety of a nearby raft. Kaczmarek then towed the survivor 50 yards to a small buoy and instructed him to hold on. Once stable, Kaczmarek swam 100 yards back to the shore to retrieve a small inflatable and returned to the survivor at the buoy. He then towed the survivor 100 yards back to shore where he made a full recovery. 

Christopher Leon

Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class, U.S. Coast Guard

Duty Station: San Francisco
Hometown: Temecula, Calif.

U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class (Rescue Swimmer) Christopher Leon saved four persons from certain peril during a night rescue 60 miles offshore of San Francisco on June 20, 2014. Faced with 15 foot seas, Leon deployed and swam to a nearby submerged vessel to prepare them for extraction. One at a time, he grasped the survivors, jumped into the sea, swimming hard to keep their heads above water. Using brute strength he lifted each survivor into the rescue basket to safety. Between rescues he was swept away 500 yards from the vessel. When the aircraft reached a critically low fuel state, the aircrew attempted to deploy the rescue raft before departing, but it was swept away, leaving him to make a split second decision whether to retrieve the life raft and risk leaving the lone survivor in greater peril, or to remain with the survivor aboard the swamped vessel. Leon remained, huddling to protect the survivor from the elements in the open ocean for over two hours until the helicopter returned for the final hoist.   

Matthew Worden

Machinery Technician 2nd Class, U.S. Coast Guard

Duty Station: Silverdale, Wash.
Hometown: Medford, Ore.

In Oct., 2014, U.S. Coast Guard Machinery Technician 2nd Class Matthew Worden responded to a catastrophic rock climbing incident in Silverdale, Wash., after his friend fell approximately 50 feet and was knocked unconscious after hitting his head. Worden sprinted over 30 minutes to a location with a cellular signal to contact 911. He then arranged for a good Samaritan to guide Emergency Medical Services from the trailhead to the site, 30 minutes away. After rejoining his injured friend, Worden placed himself beneath his friend, preventing him from sliding further down the hill, holding him for an hour and a half until Emergency Medical Services arrived.

William Uher

Sergeant-Technician, U.S. Secret Service

Duty Station: Washington, D.C.
Hometown: Scranton, Pa.

While en route to work on Nov. 22, 2014, U.S. Secret Service Sergeant-Technician William Uher came upon a motor vehicle accident on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and was the first to respond. After notifying 911, he went to the scene to offer assistance. When Sergeant-Uher noticed flames originating from underneath the hood of the vehicle, he removed the occupant, who was later determined to have a broken pelvis and unable to walk.

For more information, visit www.dhs.gov.

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Last Updated: 08/02/2021
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