By Michael Ard, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Public Affairs
PORT HUENEME, Calif. (NNS) -- Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center employee Erik Cortez was presented a Superior Civilian Medal for Valor by NAVFAC EXWC Commanding Officer, Capt. Jay Mitchell for performing acts of valor Oct. 11, 2015.
The citation, signed by NAVFAC Commander and Chief of Civil Engineers, Rear Adm. Bret Muilenburg, stated throughout the crisis Cortez demonstrated remarkable bravery, exceptional determination, and an astounding sense of calmness.
Cortez, a compliance specialist in the EXWC, Construction Equipment Division knows safety; it's part of his job. As the safety representative within the CED organization, he ensures all safety concerns are addressed and regulations are adhered to. He also administers and records all departmental safety training. Safety is something Cortez believes should be practiced 24/7.
"I was at the pier fishing with my family and I didn't want my children seeing or experiencing someone's death is what I remember most before jumping in," said Cortez. "I had called 911 and it seemed to be taking too long. I could see two heads and the smaller one dropped underwater but came back up. I told myself if it drops again, I'm going in."
Without hesitation Cortez jumped from the pier into a dangerous surging ocean with 6-8 foot surf to assist in the daring rescue of a child being swept out to sea.
During the awards ceremony April 5, EXWC Heavy Construction Program Lead, Lt. Timothy Palik read the following citation covering Cortez's heroic actions, "For the heroism displayed on 11 October 2015 while assisting in the daring rescue of a child. While on the pier in Port Hueneme, California, Mr. Erik Cortez observed a young girl being swept out to sea by the treacherous rip currents of the Pacific Ocean. Witnessing the father and others battling against the rip current to rescue her, Mr. Cortez acted without hesitation and regard for his own safety when jumping from a height of over 25 feet into the water and swimming toward her.
"Fighting the rip current and waves, he struggled until he reached the girl and her father," said Palik. "As his own family watched, Mr. Cortez dove down and pulled the child from under the water. Together, Mr. Cortez and the father were able to pull the unconscious child to a pier piling. Mr. Cortez secured his leg around a pier piling and began rescue breathing before a Harbor Patrol boat pulled the father and child to safety. Throughout the crisis, Mr. Cortez demonstrated remarkable bravery, exceptional determination, and an astounding sense of calmness. Although he remains humble, his unselfish action, courage and unwavering devotion were instrumental in saving a precious life and reflect the highest credit upon himself, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the United States Navy."
Although the award is the second highest honorary award for Department of the Navy civilian employees, it is the third award Cortez has received for his actions Oct. 11. He was first recognized by the Ventura County Fire Department at their 20th Annual Awards Ceremony Feb. 25 with the department's Medal of Valor, then by the Port Hueneme City Council's proclamation of Valor and most recently the Secretary of the Navy's Superior Civilian Medal for Valor.
"I was overwhelmed by the recognition given me for my actions," said Cortez. "I was mostly concerned with the status of girl, who has recovered. It took a lot for me to accept the recognition. By speaking with co-workers I've rationalized the recognition is about encouraging others to act and not just stand by in a situation, if they are able. It's about doing the right thing in a situation, making a difference."
Cortez has served his country as a Department of the Navy civilian employee of NAVFAC EXWC since September, 2008.