MAYFIELD, Ky. — Three Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Cadets from Graves County High School were recognized today for their actions Dec. 10, 2021 when an EF4 tornado struck their community.
Despite the danger, Cadet Sgt. Tanner Smith, Cadet Capt. Anthea Hankins and Cadet Lt. Col. Alex Medley all went to help rescue the workers trapped in the rubble of the devastated Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory. Together they are responsible for the search and rescue of more than 20 survivors.
Col. Brent Clemmer, commander of 7th Brigade Army ROTC, presented the Medal of Heroism to each Cadet.
“I am proud of you,” Clemmer said. “Your parents should be proud of you and the mayor is here and I know she is proud of you. Thanks for exemplifying what 'right' is.”
The Medal of Heroism is the highest Department of the Army medal exclusively awarded to Army ROTC and JROTC Cadets. The medal is presented to those who perform an act of heroism where they involve the "acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage."
The Medal of Heroism has not been awarded since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, 2018.
Cadet Medley said his vehicle was heavily damaged by the storm. Despite this he drove through debris, downed power lines and trees to reach the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory. Medley arrived before many first responders.
“Army JROTC has put my mindset where other people’s needs are greater than my own,” Medley said.
Medley, Hankins, and Smith did not coordinate their rescue efforts till they came across each other as they worked. When they first arrived, light was very limited, it was cold and still raining. Each Cadet came to the candle factory for their own reasons, but answered the same call to help others.
Smith lives just 15 minutes from where the tornado hit. His stepmother lives near the candle factory and after driving over to confirm that she was safe he received a call for help from a friend that was stuck in the rubble of the candle factory.
“We just started looking for our buddy,'' Smith said. “We pulled I think six or seven people out before we found our buddy, but then we kept going after that. There were so many people trapped there.”
Hankins was also there on the scene looking for a friend of her sister’s boyfriend.
“We were there for a long time…,” Hankins said. “Trying to carefully shift the rubble without crushing everything else and trying to figure out just how many people were in there.”
She continued to help until 2 a.m. when officials asked volunteers to leave.
“When our friend had finally responded it was a big relief for a lot of people…,” Hankins said. “Once we actually got him out of the candle factory I’ll never forget his face and how he acted.”
Smith said looking back at that night and the days following the tragedy, he will always remember how his community came together.
“Just seeing all of the people, like my fellow Cadet, Alex Medley, being right there beside me and the whole community stepping up in a way I’ve never seen before,” Smith said. “People say you never know what you got until you don’t have it. And that’s 100 percent true looking around Mayfield… we just took for granted the fellow citizens and how amazing everyone is. We really saw that when the tornado happened.”
It has been over two months since the tornado struck the town of Mayfield, taking the lives of more than 75 people across the state and causing widespread damage. Medley, Hankins, and Smith have volunteered every day since aiding in the recovery of their community.
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