WASHINGTON — Arkansas Game & Fish Wildlife Officer Michael Neal received the nation’s highest public safety honor at a White House ceremony Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Biden thanked Neal and 17 other public safety officers for their "extraordinary acts" of bravery in the line of duty.
"You are the heart. You are the soul. You are the spine of the nation," Biden said.
The 18 recipients of the Police Safety Officer Medal of Valor included four who died in the line of duty. They join 60 others who have received the medal since 2003.
Neal was recognized for heroic actions he took on May 20, 2010, during a shootout in a Wal-Mart parking lot in West Memphis.
Neal arrived at the scene to find Crittenden County Sheriff Dick Busby and Chief Deputy W. A. Wren engaged in a firefight with two men in a van who had earlier killed two police officers during a traffic stop on Interstate 40.
Risking his own life, Neal rammed his truck into the van to stop the suspects. One of the suspects, armed with an AK-47, shot through Neal’s windshield but missed the wildlife officer. Neal returned fire with his AR-15.
Both suspects were pronounced dead at the scene.
Neal’s actions undoubtedly saved the lives of Busby and Wren, according to a White House citation that was read aloud at the ceremony.
As he walked on stage to accept his medal, Neal gave Biden a "challenge coin" that had been made to honor the two fallen West Memphis police officers, Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans.
"Thank you, man," Biden said as he pocketed the medallion.
Biden then placed the medal of valor around Neal’s neck and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder handed him a certificate. Neal also gave Holder a challenge coin.
Neal has previously received the 2011 International Officer of the Year award and the 2010 NRA Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.
He was awarded the Arkansas Medal of Valor by Gov. Mike Beebe in 2010.
AGFC Chief of Enforcement Jeff Crow said in a statement that the department is "very proud" of Neal and appreciates the Obama administration for acknowledging his bravery and valor.
"His extraordinary service is a testament to the dedication of all those who serve in law enforcement in the state of Arkansas," Crow said.
The medals awarded Wednesday were for acts of valor that occurred between 2009 and 2011.
Among those honored were two Pennsylvania state troopers who rescued a nine-year-old boy abducted by his father. One of the troopers was killed and the other injured in an exchange of gunfire with the suspect.
Another honoree was a Brooklyn firefighter who pulled a man to safety through a wall of flames so hot that they popped a seam on firefighter’s flame-resistant bunker coat, according to the New York Daily News.