March 24, 2016 —
MACDILL AFB, Fla. (March 24, 2016) – Each day, service members are required to make correct,
timely, and difficult decisions, often with life or death hanging in the
balance. That is why it should be no surprise that U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lt.
Jessica Purcell, of the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) and a
government contractor in U.S. Central Command’s J8 Directorate, chose to stop
and assist a local Tampa man in desperate need of help.
It has been almost a year since
Purcell helped rescue Reginald White, of Bradenton, Fla, when he fell more than
30 feet into the waters of Tampa Bay after a gust of wind from an oncoming
semi-truck knocked him from a section of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Purcell has now been named “2015
Hero of the Year” by local TV news station Bay News 9. Purcell received the
award during a March 21 ceremony in downtown Tampa.
“It’s an honor to have even been
considered for this award,” said Purcell. “I don’t think I did anything
special, or anything that a good Soldier or good person wouldn’t do.”
Purcell was driving across the
Sunshine Skyway Bridge May 3, 2015 on her way home from U.S. Army Reserve drill
duty in Miami. She said when she saw White’s wife and daughter screaming for
help on the side of the road, she immediately pulled over to assist.
“There is no shoulder on that part
of the bridge, and all the cars were just driving past the family,” Purcell
explained. “Not a single car stopped, and I almost knew someone must have gone
in the water.”
Purcell said the family did not have
a working cell phone on hand and were unable to call for help.
“I called 911 and started to look
for a mile marker to give dispatch a better idea of where we were located,”
Purcell said. “After that I began to coach [White] on how to stay afloat and
listened to make sure he was still responding.”
Purcell, still in her Army uniform,
said she emptied her pockets and prepared to jump into the dark water in the
event White ceased to shout back to her.
“He started to say ‘I don’t know if
I can do this anymore’ and I could tell he was close to exhaustion,” Purcell
said. “I told him you better keep holding on to that piling, because the rescue
boat is on the way.”
Purcell, a certified water survival
instructor, said she relied on her military training to help keep White focused
“I knew that [White] didn’t have a
lot of options due to the severity of the current that was flowing under the
bridge,” Purcell said. “If he had moved away from where he was positioned, he
would have been swept away.”
A marine rescue team from the
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrived to pull White from
the ripping waters, and he was transported to Bayfront Health in St.
Petersburg, Fla. for medical treatment.
Purcell said she still checks in on
the White family every now and then.
“Oh, we’re friends now,” she said. “Sometimes I
will send [White’s] wife a text message just to see how they’re doing. I am
just happy that everyone was OK and able to go about their daily lives as a