Peachtree City, Ga. -
A Georgia Wing cadet who saved the life of a trapped motorist in 2018 was honored Saturday with the Silver Medal of Valor, the highest decoration awarded by the organization.
Cadet 2nd Lt. Nathaniel Justin Oakes, a member of the Peachtree City Falcon Field Composite Squadron, received the medal from CAP’s national commander, Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, during the Southeast Region annual conference in Peachtree City, Georgia.
Oakes and another Peachtree City cadet, Davis Laughlin, came upon a multi-car accident Aug. 2 while returning from a squadron meeting. They learned an SUV had plunged into a pond, where they found the driver, disoriented from the accident, inside the vehicle.
Oakes and Laughlin asked the man to roll down his windows, then worked together to extract him before the vehicle was completely submerged. Smith, in presenting the medal, said Oakes “distinguished himself by conspicuous, heroic action above and beyond the normal call of duty."
He added, “The quick thinking and heroic actions of Cadet Oakes reflects great credit upon himself, the Georgia Wing and Civil Air Patrol.”
Laughlin was also approved to receive the Silver Medal of Valor for his actions. He recently joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and the award is pending his rejoining CAP as a member.
Saturday’s conference also featured several awards for individual and unit service excellence, including a surprise from Smith -- a Unit Citation for the Southeast Region, awarded to every member in the six wings – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Tennessee.
In recognizing the region’s commander, Col. Barry Melton, Smith said the award also honored members’ emergency service in the aftermath of several devastating hurricanes over the last four years. Melton also presented other recognitions, including:
The region’s Squadron of Distinction Award to Puerto Rico’s Muniz Air Base Cadet Squadron, commanded by Lt. Col. Ivalesse Peña. It was the second year in a row the squadron has received the honor; Peña was also honored with the Region Senior Member of the Year Award. And the Col. Glenn Atwell Region Cadet of the Year to Cadet Col. Brianna Fuchs of the Alabama Wing’s Tuscaloosa Composite Squadron. Smith also announced that Peña and the Muniz Air Base squadron will receive honors at CAP’s National Conference in August that will mirror the region-level awards.
The event’s keynote speaker was Col. Mark Wootan, who recently assumed command of CAP-U.S. Air Force, the military unit that aids and oversees CAP, the Air Force's civilian auxiliary.
The conference was the last for Melton as the region’s commander, typically a four-year assignment within CAP. The organization expects to name a new region commander in August at the National Conference.
Melton, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, is employed by Life Care Centers of America, where he serves as the director of Virtual Tour Development. He also teaches part-time at two universities in the Southeast Tennessee area.
He has commanded the Southeast Region, one of CAP’s eight geographic regions, since June 2015. Before that he served in key leadership roles at the squadron, group and wing levels, including as commander of CAP’s Tennessee Wing.
Melton was surprised by his daughter, Breanna, a cadet first lieutenant in the Tennessee Wing’s Cleveland Composite Squadron, who delivered a tribute from the awards banquet podium.
The colonel, in remarks at the close of the conference, thanked the volunteer members of the region, who serve their communities without pay, for their ceaseless dedication.
“It has been a wonderful journey,” Melton said of his tenure.