Four awards were presented at the breakfast, including Public Safety Employee of the Year, an Award of Merit, a Medal of Valor and the Distinguished Achievement Award. Seventeen nominations were submitted from several public safety agencies in Cobb, including fire, police, sheriff's office, campus police, EMS, National Park Service and state patrol. Heisman Trophy winner and University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker was the breakfast's guest speaker.
"You have to have leaders and people to step up and make things right and put themselves on the line. You always need a quarterback," Walker said, during his speech. "These public safety officers are our quarterbacks, and our society is thankful for them and certainly needs them."
The winners of the four awards included Sgt. Clifton Halten of Southern Polytechnic State University with the Public Safety Employee of the Year award, Hansell "Junior" Walraven of the Cobb County Sheriff's Office with the Medal of Valor, Engineer Grant Pearson of the Marietta Fire Department with the Award of Merit and Major Tom O'Connor of the Cobb County Sheriff's Office with the Distinguished Achievement Award.
Sgt. Halten is the first public safety award recipient in SPSU's history and has spent four years with the branch after serving in Iraq as a United States Marine. During his time with the SPSU police department, Halten has decreased the amount of underage drinking on campus, submitted more suggestions for department improvements than any other officer, helped to save a man who had a heart attack on South Marietta Parkway and saved the lives of two citizens on April 25 when he responded to a call at an apartment complex and fashioned his baton as an improvised tourniquet to save the life of a stab wound victim.
"I was extremely caught off guard when they announced my name," Halten said, after the awards ceremony. "A lot of what we do is just part of the job, so you don't expect to get a pat on the back but when you do, it really means a lot. This is certainly the high point of my career."
The Medal of Valor is awarded to a public safety officer that goes above and beyond the call of duty in a life-threatening situation. This year's recipient, Major Walraven, has been with the Cobb County Sheriff's Office for 26 years and was working as a part-time security officer at Wellstar Cobb Hospital in May when he came across a man armed with a gun in the emergency room parking lot. He was able to convince the man to surrender his gun and be placed under custody with no injuries to himself or others.
The Award of Merit goes to an officer that shows considerable concern for citizens, helping them in ways that go beyond expectations and often results in a life being saved. Engineer Pearson of the Marietta Fire Department was given the award for spending several hours helping a woman lost on the Marietta Square and ensuring her safe return home after working a 24-hour shift with Marietta Fire Station 51.
Major O'Connor of the Cobb County Sheriff's Office was given the Distinguished Achievement Award for his volunteerism outside of the department in the Cobb community. He is also a cancer survivor after beating two bouts of Leukemia and helped to organize the "Friends of Tom O'Connor" non-profit organization with fellow supporters to raise money and awareness for the American Cancer Society.
"I have been friends with Sheriff (Neil) Warren for a long time and was so happy to be able to speak to these officers and the community," Walker said, after the breakfast. "I actually wanted to be in law enforcement before I went to UGA, so I admire what they do. I think everyone should thank them for what they do, as well. Sometimes people are automatically afraid of these public safety people, especially cops, but people don't realize how much good they do for our society, and how lost we'd be without them."