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Academy civilian receives valor award
Leslie Johnson, right, poses for a photograph with her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, near the Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel Nov. 16, 2011. Johnson received a Command Civilian Award for Valor from Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould for placing herself in harm's way to rescue a 21-year-old resident of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Aug. 10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)
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Academy civilian receives valor award

Posted 11/16/2011   Updated 11/16/2011 Email story   Print story


by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

11/16/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- She can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, and she's not more powerful than a locomotive, but the administrative assistant for the Academy's Foreign Languages Department has the heart of a superhero.

Leslie Johnson received a Command Civilian Award for Valor from Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould Nov. 16 for rescuing and likely saving the life of a young woman in Colorado Springs in August.

Gould presented the award to Johnson during a meeting of the Academy's senior leaders.

"We talk a lot about integrity, service and excellence," he said. "Leslie demonstrated all three of the Air Force core values that day."

Johnson said she knew she was being recognized when her supervisors asked her to accompany them to the meeting, but "I had no idea it was for this," she said.

Johnson was stopped at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Marksheffel Road in eastern Colorado Springs, on her way to work on Aug. 10. Her two children were seated in the back. A red sedan caught her eye as its door popped open while the vehicle took a fast turn.

A moment later, Johnson saw a young woman asking other drivers for help.

"The cars in front of me started locking their doors," Johnson said.

The young woman, 21-year-old Jacqueline Maes, reached Johnson's SUV.

"She said, 'My boyfriend's going to kill me,'" Johnson recalled. "She looked young and beat-up. I wasn't going to leave her standing there.

"I said, 'The police station is two blocks up, get in.' She didn't want to get in because she knew something I didn't know at the time," Johnson continued.

What Johnson didn't know is that the sedan's driver, 28-year-old Corey Handy, had a handgun. Maes told her just after getting into the vehicle.

"I put my kids on the floorboard," she said. "She (Maes) laid on top of my son."

When she saw his car turn around, she ran the light at Constitution and Marksheffel. Handy caught up to them, allegedly aiming for Maes while firing at Johnson's SUV, but the back driver's side door stopped all five shots. Handy then drove off, Johnson said.

Johnson's immediate supervisor, Russian instructor Capt. John Morash, was in Chicago en route to Russia when he received word of what had happened.

"I got a phone call saying Leslie had been shot at," Morash said. He got co-workers to visit Johnson at home and bring food so she wouldn't have to worry about fixing meals for the family.

He returned to the United States three weeks later, watched news reports of the event and got the rest of the story.

"She (Johnson) stepped up," Morash said. "She knew this girl needed help. I know for a fact she didn't think twice. It was reflex. In today's day and age, when everyone's afraid to help people, it's good to see, especially in a high-stress situation."

Johnson said if she had known Handy was armed, she would have driven more aggressively.

"I would have driven faster and taken off a lot sooner than I did," Johnson said, "but that's the only thing I would have done differently. I didn't have time to ask a thousand questions about the situation -- I was compelled to help her."

Johnson's SUV was impounded as evidence, leaving her without a vehicle. However, her selfless spirit prompted local charities and individuals to respond in kind. Faculty and staff in the Foreign Languages Department and Soldiers in the 204th Brigade Support Battalion, where her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, is stationed, raised approximately $1,300 to help her buy a new car, Morash said.

In addition, The Home Front Cares, the British Motorcycle Association of Colorado and the West Point Society of the Pikes Peak Region also raised about $1,600 to help her family. Morash said the organizations wanted to make sure Johnson's family didn't suffer financial hardship because of her heroic deed.

Handy was arrested Aug. 30 in Corrales, N.M., on charges of kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder. Johnson said she keeps in touch with Maes on occasion and gets regular updates on Handy's case from the El Paso County District Attorney's Office. A judge set Handy's bond at more than $250,000 on Oct. 20, pending his trial.

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