Kaiser JROTC Cadet receives rare Gold Valor award at HOCO 2022


Stanely Chang Twitter page (@stanelypchang)

(left to right) Senators Mark Hashem, Stanley Chang and Chris Lee present Cadet Judah Danganan (middle left) with the proclamation of his receiving of the Gold Valor Award.

Kailani Clark (KC), Copy Editor

Air Force JROTC Cadet Airman Judah Danganan was observed with The Gold Valor Award at the homecoming assembly and football game at halftime for his act of selflessness earlier this year. The first to have received the national award after three years, Cadet Danganan speaks more about himself and that particular day, lending insight to the thought process that leads him through school, JROTC training, and moments of immediate decisions in the ocean.

A sophomore at Kaiser High School, Cadet Danganan is a second-year cadet in his school’s JROTC program. As an avid swimmer, he spends hours at a time in the water for swim competitions as well as additional time in the ocean during which he is sometimes confronted with opportunities to utilize his swimming capabilities for the greater good.

Cadet Danganan began spending more time in the water during his later years of home-schooled education (from 2nd to 8th grade) during which his interests developed rather keenly toward the military, particularly toward that of pararescue and ocean rescues. With the inspiration of his uncle, Tiedus Serrel, active in the Air Force, he joined Kaiser’s JROTC in his freshman year.

With endless free hours during quarantine, his family friend Gerome Kekumu taught Cadet Danganan water safety and vigilance to the point of helping others as well. With such in-depth knowledge of the sea, he often spends as much time as possible at beaches around his home island of Oahu. As for ocean rescues such as the situation that earned him the award, Cadet Danganan considers it a regular occurrence, “maybe once a month,” he shrugs.

This particular ocean rescue occurred earlier this year during March. While surfing at China Walls with his younger brother and family friends, Cadet Danganan watched as people climbed from the water in confusion. From the clamor, Cadet Danganan could tell someone needed help and immediately lent assistance in the way he knew how.

“In split-second decisions, I tend to just jump in.””

— Cadet Danganan.

“In split-second decisions,” Cadet Danganan states, “I tend to just jump in.” Timing the waves carefully and using safety techniques taught by Kekumu, he pulled the man, roughly 50 years of age, 200-300 lbs, from the water.

This award recognizes Cadet Danganan as a rarity as it is reserved only for those that “risk their own life to save another,” according to Retired Colonel Tim Martinez, the JROTC Co-Instructor at Kaiser High School.

Col. Martinez has not witnessed the awarding of the ribbon in his “3 years at Kaiser and neither has Sargeant Paquin in his 10 years” as the second Co-Instructor for Kaiser’s JROTC. Col. Martinez recognizes the strong character of the Cadet Airman and his aptitude for ocean rescues. He gives “credit to his parents” and healthy upbringing for his “integrity, honesty, and respectful” attitude in all aspects.

Col. Martinez and Kaiser High School Principal Mew convinced local senators and congressmen that Cadet Danganan was worthy of the esteemed award by drafting write-ups from eyewitnesses, including Cadet Danganan himself, from the event. After receiving the proclamation from Senators Stanley Chang, Chris Lee and Mark Hashem on March 19, 2022 that confirmed his recognition, Cadet Danganan was later awarded The Gold Valor ribbon and pin by Principle Mew and Col. Martinez during the homecoming events of the 2022-2023 school year.

However, when speaking of the award himself, Cadet Danganan steps beyond the formal standards for a medal and into the humanitarian basis of fight, flight, or freeze. “It is a very scary situation,” he says. “There is nothing to be disappointed in” if people choose to remove themselves from a moment they do not understand.

He acknowledges, with astounding modesty, his (apparently common) predicament as an act of instinct merely called upon at “the right place at the right time.” He does not consider luck to qualify for such recognition; “It wasn’t like I was going to die.”

Following his established path of ocean rescues, Cadet Danganan was recently certified as a lifeguard on Sunday, Oct. 9. Forty hours throughout two weekends were spent on an online class and an in-person course on water safety and training in rescue techniques. Cadet Danganan was certified with one of the highest scores on both the written and swimming portions of the test.

As a motivated student, athlete and person, Cadet Danganan finds it natural to apply oneself in a familiar area. If not for the aspect of skill, then for integrity. While extremes such as ocean rescues need not be replicated, the basis of motivation is quite a healthy reminder for our community. Application of one’s skills can create a safer and more varied society of shared talents that, in the right circumstances, can prove beneficial to all.