A sailor from Toms River has been awarded one of the Navy's highest honors for saving at least two of his fellow shipmates aboard the USS Guardian after the vessel struck a reef in the Pacific Ocean. 

Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Kirckof’s grandparents and brother show their emotions as Petty Officer Kirckof receives the Navy and Marine Corp Medal (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Dennis Sloan)

25-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Kirckof, a search and rescue swimmer, spent almost five hours in the shark-infested swirling ocean and high seas to make sure 46 shipmates made it to safety on January 17, 2013 about 400 nautical miles southwest of Manila, Philippines , according to a press release from the Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.

"I grew up in Toms River, N.J." Kirckof said. "I was always around water. When I was 20 , I joined the Navy in hopes of becoming a diver, but I became a mineman instead. When I reported to The Guardian, they needed a SAR (search and rescue) swimmer and I volunteered."

Other than some minor injuries, the entire crew made it off the ship safely. The Guardian was damaged beyond repair, was later dismantled and removed from the reef.

"Every SAR swimmer wonders how they will react when the time comes and people's lives are on the line. I happened to be the SAR on The Guardian. I'm pretty proud of the fact that when the occasion came to put my training to use, I lived up to those standards," Kirckof said.

On Friday, Kirkof was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.