June 13, 2019

Medals of Honor / Merit Ceremony

Medals of Honor / Merit Ceremony

Good afternoon.

It is again both an honor and a privilege for me to be here today. Let me begin by stating that the New York State Department of Corrections and Community is a unique state agency.

So many people outside of DOCCS — and even some within DOCCS — don’t know just how much our staff do to protect and serve others.

While our mission is to ensure public safety by operating safe and secure facilities, preparing individuals to be successful when they are released from prison, and then supervising them when they return home, it is evident today, by those to whom we have awarded medals of honor and of merit, that our staff often go above and beyond the call of duty.

It doesn’t matter whether they are on the clock or off, or whether they are at home or on vacation in another state. The acts of unselfishness these individuals have demonstrated, is a virtue entrenched in many of our employees.

Yes. We are the agency responsible for the custody of New York’s incarcerated population, and the supervision of its parolee population, but the men and women of DOCCS do so much more.

And the 12 individuals we honored today for their unselfish and heroic acts in 2018 are incontrovertible proof of that special distinction.

Over the years, we have awarded medals to hundreds of DOCCS employees. And there are hundreds more who may not have received a medal, or whose name may not be listed in the memorial booklet, but they too have risked their lives to save others. 

We know that DOCCS employees put their lives on the line day-in and day-out, both within our correctional facilities and within our community supervision offices. But so many also go above and beyond the call of duty outside of their workplace locations, to protect and to keep others safe.

They put others’ safety above their own, which, on a personal level, is not only one of the most commendable things we can ever do, but it is also something that advances our collective humanity.

Often, these acts of heroism don’t make headline news. Nor, for that matter, do they typically get even a minor acknowledgment by mainstream media.

That’s why, in 1984, we began recognizing our staff annually with medals of honor and medals of merit for their courage, bravery, and heroism. Including our recipients today, we have awarded more than 200 Department employees with these medals since our annual ceremony first began.

To today’s medial recipients: Thank you for your unselfish acts of bravery, for going above and beyond the call of duty, and for placing yourselves in harm's way to ensure the safety of others. You make our entire Department proud.

And while we hold this annual ceremony to honor those for their unselfish acts of bravery and courage, we also hold it to pay homage to our fallen.

One of the noblest duties we perform as public servants is remembering those who have come before us. We never want to forget those Department staff who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In just a moment, the Memorial Roll will be read in solemn recognition of the 43 individuals who gave their lives in DOCCS’ service since 1861.

To the families of our fallen colleagues who are here with us today, we know that your lives have been changed forever. You, too, have made the ultimate sacrifice and we are forever bound in solidarity.

Indisputably, it takes individuals with special character to run toward danger instead of away from it. But DOCCS employees are truly a rare and special breed.

In the words of Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi: “Bravery is not a quality of the body. It is of the soul.” 

Today, we awarded medals to Department staff who put the needs of others above their own, even when there was a real chance they might not survive. And in just a minute, we will recognize those who did lose their lives in the line of duty.

I am extremely proud to be at the helm of this extraordinary state agency. So today, in unison with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Richard White, and our friends from the Legislature, I extend my deepest and sincerest gratitude, not only to the people we honor here today, but also to the nearly 30,000 DOCCS employees statewide, who perform their jobs with the utmost honor and dignity.

Thank you.