Teens get Navy JROTC highest honor for heroic effort

Aug 30, 2021, 9:49 AM
Alec Jakalski  (left) and Jacob Armistead, both 17, discuss how they helped rescue fellow campers c...
Alec Jakalski (left) and Jacob Armistead, both 17, discuss how they helped rescue fellow campers caught in flooding.

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    LEBANON, Tennessee (WSMV) — A camping trip along the Piney River in Hickman County Tennessee became a rescue mission for two high school students from Wilson County.

17-year-olds Jacob Armistead and Alec Jakalski were with friends and family. It quickly turned into chaos.

“We opened the door to the camper and see that it’s at the second step of the camper, which is about two feet high,” Alec Jakalski, a Wilson Central High School student said.

The situation did not get any better. It got worse. They tried to get their camper out, but they couldn’t.

“It was no hope. The hitch was already underwater and there was nothing left. No shoes. No waters we could get. That was about the time we realized it was bad,” Jakalski said.

During those scary moments, the teens saw three other campers in distress.

“As soon as we looked and saw them in trouble, it was kind of this look back at each other and say ‘hey, let’s go’ and we’re off,” Jacob Armistead, another Wilson Central High School student said. Alec and Jacob locked arms with each other and pulled a woman and her parents to shore. Those actions likely saved their lives.

“We don’t feel like we’re heroes. We feel like we did what we knew we could do,” Jakalski said.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed. On Friday, they were pinned with the highest honor a Navy JROTC cadet can receive.

The award called the Cadet Meritorious Achievement Ribbon is rarely given and it was a first for Wilson Central High School.

“I’m very proud of it, but I’m more proud of it to say I can be an inspiration to those who follow me and who I lead, people who may not even know me,” Jakalski said.

Even with survival and preparedness training from JROTC and Boy Scouts, the floodwaters put them to the ultimate test. “Being prepared not just in the sense, I have a rope in my car, being prepared like oh, I know how to do CPR. I know how to actually help people. I am also mentally ready to jump into an overflowing river,” Armistead said.

For the two teens, they’ll never look at flooding the same.

“I always assumed I’d be able to swim out, but now I know the horrifying power of it,” Armistead said.

They plan to continue paying it forward by helping the people of Waverly in Humphreys county. They’re working with the city on relief efforts.

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Teens get Navy JROTC highest honor for heroic effort