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by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN - BLM winners


   On top of being stellar employees for the Bureau of Land Management, Scott Cooke and Dale Johnson are brave men who go beyond their duties at the BLM.
   The two men will head to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 2 to accept the Valor Award from the Department of Interior.
   The award was established in 1957. It is the highest honor granted by the Department to employees who have shown unusual courage in the face of grave danger. The act may be performed on or off duty, which involves a situation where the employee is putting his or her life in jeopardy in attempt to save another.
   Usually, Johnson can be found behind his desk at the Prineville BLM office. A resource area assistant for the Prineville District BLM, Johnson issues recreational permits for the area and was visiting the Davidson Flat Campground on the Lower Deschutes River on Aug. 9, 2003.
   "About three times each year, I go out on the river just so I get an understanding of what's taking place down there," Johnson said.
   Two other BLM employees accompanied him, while the trio checked in with the campground visitors.
   "A lady we talked to at the first campground told us that a guy almost drowned earlier," Johnson recalled.
   "We checked in with two other campgrounds and we crossed her again and she said, 'You're not going to believe this, but this guy is out there drowning,'" he continued.
   Johnson looked towards the river and approximately 100 to 150 yards away a man was flailing his arms in the water. Johnson took off in a sprint and when he reached the river, about 12 to 13 people were standing on the shore.
   "They were kind of in a shock syndrome," Johnson said.
   In the past, Johnson had been in the military and was trained for water rescue.
   Johnson first talked with the victim, who was not wearing a life jacket, in an attempt to calm him down. He then allowed the man to grab hold of his life jacket, so he could tow him in.
   "Next thing I know he's panicked again and says 'I'm losing my grip,'" he remembered.
   Johnson moved behind him, grabbed him from his underarms and started to swim back in.
   "As soon as I started to tow him back in, he just went limp. I was just barely able to keep my head and his head over the water," he said.
   Johnson yelled to the shore to have someone get a raft, but instead a man with a kayak came to the rescue. He was able to hold on to the kayak with one hand and the exhausted man in the other and bring him to shore.
   When Johnson and the victim got to the shore, the size difference between the two men was obvious. The victim weighed about 250 to 260 pounds, while Johnson weighed about 100 pounds less.
   "When we got ashore people were clapping and saying, 'BLM's our hero!' That made me feel good," said Johnson.
   "I know the guy actually learned a lesson, because I saw him twice or three times the next day and everytime we saw him and his group, everyone had a life jacket on. The guy said thanks for being there and I knew he meant it... That to me was my reward," he said.
   Scott Cooke, a wildlife biologist with the Prineville District BLM, feels the same way.
   On June 18, 2003, Cooke and his family were heading for a family vacation in Utah.
   His three children, who at the time were 9-, 6-, and 3-years-old, and wife, who was pregnant with the couple's fourth child, were traveling on Highway 26 between Prineville and Mitchell when they came across a Dodge pickup towing a 22-foot camp trailer that had flipped and was stuck upside down.
   The truck was burning and the two passengers, Nancy and Bob Stochosky, were trapped inside.
   Cooke didn't hesitate. Instead he grabbed his Leatherman's tool to cut the victims' seatbelts and a rock to break the window and rescued the elderly couple from the burning vehicle.
   "As we were walking away, the truck exploded," Cooke remembered. EMT Carol Sweet of Mitchell believes Cooke saved the Stochosky's lives that day.
   "Due to Scott's quick reactions (and) calm level performance, he definitely saved two peoples' lives that day. He was truly their guardian angel," she wrote in a letter to the BLM.
   The highway was closed for about three hours after the accident, for clean up.
   The Stochosky's walked away from the accident with bumps, bruises, and a few cuts, but with their lives.
   "It's one of those things that's hard to say what would have happened otherwise... I guess we were just in the right place at the right time and were able to help," Cooke said.
   Sacrificing even more of his vacation time, Cooke drove the couple home to John Day.
   "As much as he (said) he 'was going that way anyhow,' Scott's wife was most helpful and solicitous of my wife's condition. Our thanks to her as well as their children, who were so patient during this unplanned interruption of their vacation," Bob Stochosky wrote in a letter to Barron Bail, BLM Prineville District manager.
   The Cooke family remains friends with Nancy and Bob Stochosky, who gave each of Cooke's children wooden rocking horses.
   "I just feel that I was blessed to be in the right place and I could help them out," Cooke said.
   "Anything like that gives you an appreciation of how quickly things can happen," he continued.
   Cooke also received a lifesaving award from the Oregon State Sheriff's Association in December 2003.
   Bail will accompany the two men to Washington, D.C., next month for the special recognition event.
   "To me it's a really neat deal for them. I think they both deserve it and they are great people to have on board. This is going beyond their work, which makes it really special, too," said Bail.
   "I think the people are certainly glad they were there on those days," he continued.
   The Valor Awards are generally presented by the Secretary of Interior.