On Wednesday, 20 February 2013, at the Eisenhower Executive Building of the White House, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, jointly addressed an audience in collaborative efforts to shine recognition upon the country’s top public safety officers. There were a total of 18 Medal of Valor awards conferred upon public safety officers from across the nation.
The Medal of Valor is recognized as the nation’s highest honor conferred in recognition of public safety officials’ life-saving, life-threatening efforts in the course of duty, and when meritorious acts of valor are performed while off-duty. Several of these awards granted on Wednesday were done so posthumously, to those public safety officers who succumbed and made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of duty.
Appropriated by Congress in 2003, The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor award, authorized by the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act of 2001, serves to recognize those in uniform as peace officers and public safety officials (police and firefighter/paramedic) for meritorious acts of valor. However scant in number, this year’s honorees are added to a list of those who received the Medal of Valor in prior ceremonies at the White House grounds.
To date, 78 public safety officers were conferred this prestigious award since its 2003 Congressional inception. It is driven by the nominations submitted by department figureheads, supplemented by the Office of Justice Programs review committee which evaluates those submissions and renders decisions as to which ones are conferred the medal. Thus the minute number of recipients since 2003 are predicated on self-initiation from a chief, sheriff, director or police commissioner (or respective designees), and acceptance by the OJP board of delegates who mete out nominees.
Each award nominee must be furnished by his/her chief executive officer at respective departments across the country. A more-thorough breadth of information regarding the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor history and governance can be reviewed via the White House press office link.
As audience members–family, colleagues, dignitaries, political figures, and media–witnessed and overheard each heroic deed, Vice President Biden fastened the Medal of Valor around each respective recipients’ neck, thereafter posing for on-stage photo opportunities.
The hostess and moderator of this event, broadcast on C-SPAN, was Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary who heads the Office of Justice Programs for the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ).
Five officers from the St. Petersburg, Florida, Police Department were honored as recipients of the Medal Of Valor, one posthumously, presented to his spouse, Paige Baitinger. The wife of Sgt. Thomas Baitinger was present to receive this coveted award and highest honor among peace officer ranks. A teary-eyed and emotional Baitinger was greeted by V.P. Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder on stage, where she was issued and then cradled the Medal of Valor for her husband’s valiant actions on a fateful day of 24 January 2011. Emotions were understandably high, as demonstrated throughout the almost-hour-long ceremony.
In the inexplicable conflagration, and heroic deeds conducted by the men and women of the St. Petersburg Police Department, K-9 Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz was also fatally wounded during the melee and gunbattle, at one point physically attempting to subdue the perpetrator with his handcuffs. Officer Yaslowitz’s life was ended by gunfire at the hands of the fugitive who refused to surrender to authorities. Officer Yaslowitz is survived by his wife, Lorraine Yaslowitz.
Although this year’s contingent of 18 public safety officials was recognized, honored, and conferred with the Medal of Honor by federal government, of no-lesser significance is the variety of public safety officials around the country who are regarded and honored with Medal of Valor awards by their respective departments.
Public safety agencies nationwide select, proffer nominations, and honor among their respective ranks those who have made decisions to uphold and fulfill the oaths taken on Day-1 of their careers. These are the men and women who advance towards certain danger, who muster courage beyond ordinary concepts, who witness the worst carnage imagineable, who dodge bullets bravely, and who react selflessly in the face of unmistakeable peril…all genuinely inimitable acts. Valorous, indeed.
The State of Florida has its own brand of Medal of Valor award, among other types with inherently related purpose. Presented by the Governor collaboratively with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Florida law enforcement officers and firefighters are recognized on state-government parameters.
Smaller, local, municipality-type agencies, too, have their own versions of Medal of Valor recognition and awards. The Gulfport Police Department in the Tampa Bay, Fla. area is such a department. With an authorized sworn staff of 28 police officers (2009 data is most current available), Gulfport PD has conferred its Medal of Valor twice since its policy inception in 1999.
On a larger plane, the Florida Highway Patrol issued its Medal of Valor to Trooper John Sleigher for a lifesaving incident in January 2011.
Additionally, civic- and military veteran-oriented organizations, such as the American Legion, also confer Medal of Valor awards to public safety officials. In Boston, Mass., the American Legion Department of Massachusetts Law and Order Committee granted Medal of Valor awards to Boston police officers for heroic and courageous deeds. So, the recognition is not solely from within public safety organizations and/or governments.
In its entirety just shy of one hour, video footage of the Bureau of Justice Medal of Valor Awards ceremony can be viewed via C-SPAN link.
To these stellar public safety officers, and those of past and future, we hold you in the highest of esteem…and gratefully salute all you do, with significant peril to your own lives…to salvage those of others.
To the fallen…to those still serving…to the often behind-the-scenes supportive and equally-embattled families standing with these brave and courageous men and women in uniform: We salute you.
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