2006 Coastguardsman of the Year
Yeoman 2nd Class Jeff Jackson
Serves as an 8th District Critical Incident Stress Management Team member; works with First Books, a nonprofit that collects books for children.
NEW ORLEANS, La. - At 27, Yeoman 2nd Class Jeff Jackson felt like he'd seen it all, in three months' time.
In August 2005, the New Orleans resident lost everything he owned to Hurricane Katrina.
Working relief after the storm, he maneuvered a small boat through streets he'd once walked, picking up stranded residents.
He found four people dying at a hospice, but left them behind when an administrator told him they wanted to face death in a familiar place.
On Oct. 30, he watched a car stray off road and into a ditch. He removed two children from the shattered rear window. When he tried to extricate the driver - the boys' mother - a half-consumed bottle of rum rolled off her lap.
Then, just four days later, he once again faced a life-or-death rescue situation.
In the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 3, Jackson was looking to relax after completing an 8 p.m.-to-midnight security patrol at an abandoned Coast Guard base.
He and a friend went fishing in New Orleans' Industrial Canal, next to the base. As they fished, they watched cars approach a drawbridge, stuck in "up" position since before Katrina hit.
They watched the cars turn around as their headlights shone on a barricade and the bridge's closed gate.
But one didn't turn back - it kept going, through the blockade and into the canal. "It just launched, 'Dukes of Hazzard'-style," Jackson recalled. "For a split second, we were just, 'Holy s---! What just happened?'" Jackson's shock didn't last long. Before the car sank, he and his friend were running toward it.
Jackson commandeered a nearby oyster boat and convinced its captain to head toward the sinking car. When the waterman refused to draw any closer because of debris in the canal, Jackson dove in.
"The guy was bobbing in the water, semiconscious. He'd been thrown out of the car, but his foot was caught in the window. The car was sinking and about to drag him down," Jackson said.
When the Coast Guardsman freed the man, he realized the victim was a New Orleans police officer who, despondent over his losses from Katrina, had tried to commit suicide. Jackson saved him.
"Without YN2 Jackson's heroic actions, the police officer would not have survived," said Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Schaffer, Jackson's supervisor at the Integrated Support Command.
The yeoman's courage under pressure, tireless efforts in his day job, personal commitment to physical fitness and devotion to service qualify him for Navy Times' 2005 Coast Guardsman of the Year award, his senior officers say.
"His decision to enter the water and rescue someone … truly embodies the Coast Guard's motto" of Semper Paratus, or "Always Ready," Schaffer said.
Jackson, a native of Lawrenceville, Ga., has been in the Coast Guard for nearly five years. He joined the service to pay for college, but by mid-2005 was growing restless. He considered volunteering for Middle East duty, but eventually decided to leave service. That was before Katrina.
After the storm, Jackson, who maintained his weapons qualifications after being assigned to the ISC, volunteered to run security detail for New Orleans rescue operations. He then volunteered for security duty to protect the ISC, a target for looters. He stayed on that job until almost Thanksgiving.
His experiences have given him a new sense of purpose, he says, and he aims to make the Coast Guard a career. Close to finishing his civil engineering degree from the University of New Orleans, he plans to try for Officer Candidate School.
Jackson is also an active volunteer, serving as an 8th District Critical Incident Stress Management Team member, helping run his unit's physical training program and working with First Books, a nonprofit that collects books for children who have none. "I'm not a saint or anything," he said. "If an old lady is by the side of the road and has a flat tire, you just stop and help. That's how I was brought up."