True Blue Spotlight – Stunning Act of Bravery Saves Two

Jacob Riffe (middle, with son Maxton) presented with the Soldier’s Medal for heroism March 22, 2019, during a ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Riffe (’14) is an inspiring example of Georgia Southern’s True Blue spirit, and the Army’s value of selfless service. Last spring, he received the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing two people from a burning vehicle. It is the Army’s highest medal for heroism outside of combat.

In April 2018, Riffe was off duty when he and his young son, Maxton, were heading home to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He saw a car dart across Interstate 95, tumble over an embankment and crash into a fence. Riffe ran to the scene and noticed a fire growing in the engine. Two elderly people were inside the vehicle.

“I helped the passenger out and quickly did a medical assessment on him. No broken bones or bleeding,” Riffe said. “He was dazed from the crash but coherent.”

Despite the smoke coming from the car, and the fire spreading into nearby brush and trees, the Army officer was able to pull the driver out and “she too was in a shocked and confused state.” Riffe moved both away from the burning vehicle and stayed until the emergency responders arrived. He learned later the caretaker for the elderly man had taken medication that caused her to blackout while driving. Riffe, an operations officer with the 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, said receiving the Soldier’s Medal for saving two lives is humbling.

“On the one hand, I am honored for being recognized for helping, and on the other I see my actions as just doing the right thing.” He added, “I am just happy to have been in the right place at the right time. Being put into the same category as Colin Powell, as a recipient of the Soldier’s Medal, is an extremely humbling thing for me.”

The alumnus grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and is the first in his family to graduate from a four-year university. His father and grandfather served in the military and he continued the tradition. Riffe was already in the Army when he enrolled at Georgia Southern.

“I had a very non-traditional college experience,” said the graphic communication management major. “I joke with people when I tell them about my college life that I had the ‘Van Wilder’ experience, in the sense that it took me nearly seven years (inconsecutively) to graduate. In my second year at Georgia Southern, my reserve unit was called for a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan. I dedicated nearly two years to that mission between pre- and post-deployment trainings.”

Despite those deployments, Riffe never thought about quitting college. 

“I had an incredible sense of pride when I walked across the stage during graduation in May 2014. I wouldn’t trade my experience at Georgia Southern for any other college across the nation,” he said. “Hail Southern, I am True Blue. …It means proudly telling others about my alma mater and representing Georgia Southern everywhere I go. I have flown my GS flag on top of Mount Kilimanjaro and in Afghanistan. I display my flag at work to let everyone know about the best college in Georgia.” 

Riffe is also the recipient of a Purple Heart for wounds caused by enemy actions.

— Sandra Bennett