News: JBER airman recognized for heroism
Story by Airman 1st Class Omari Bernard
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - The Airmen's Medal was presented to an airman with the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron Monday at the Talkeetna Theater. The award is the highest non-combat-related award in the Air Force.
Staff Sgt. Jacob Gibson was recognized for his act of valor when he rescued victims from a burning plane. He had the medal pinned on his uniform by Col. Brian Duffy, 673rd Air Base Wing and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson commander.
While driving home, June 1, 2010, Gibson helped successfully pull passengers from the burning wreckage of a small plane which had crashed into a building off base.
Before the ceremony, Gibson and Rachel Zientek, a girl he rescued that day, were interviewed by local media.
Two years ago Gibson saved Rachel's life, and two years later has received an award for it.
"It feels surreal,” Gibson said. "I try not to think of the award and so much as how I got it."
The day the plane crashed, a police officer in the opposite lane turned on his lights and began to weave through traffic, then Gibson observed people pointing in the direction of a spiraling column of smoke. When he saw the black smoke, he immediately pulled in behind a gas station and not knowing what had happened, proceeded to the scene.
"When I came around the corner and saw the aircraft, I saw people holding up the wing," Gibson said. "I didn't see anyone actively pulling anyone out of the aircraft, so I freaked out and sprinted towards the cockpit."
That's when he saw Zientek. He pulled her from wreckage and into the arms of an Anchorage police officer. He then returned to the plane to aid in the rescue of the next passenger.
"He's the type that would do anything for anyone," said Jessi Gibson, Jacob Gibson's wife.
The theater stood at attention as the non-commissioned officer Jacob Gibson and 673rd ABW commander took to the center of the stage. An announcer read the citation of the act of valor that earned Gibson the award and Duffy pinned the Airman's Medal upon Gibson's uniform.
Duffy waved for Rachel Zientek, her family, and Jessi Gibson to take the stage and receive a round of applause before they departed the theater.
Jacob Gibson exited the theater and answered more questions from the local media. He said he was surprised by a gift from Rachel Zientek's mother, Tammy Zientek.
"This is a copy of Rachel's Bible that survived the plane crash," Tammy Zientek said. She thanked him for saving her daughter and embraced him as he accepted the gift.
Gibson told the Zienteks of receiving the award and they decided to fly up and witness the presentation of the award.
"We're taking her out, showing her Alaska,” Gibson said. “This is the good stuff, not the bad stuff that happened. It’s a life experience you can look forward to."