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Airman earns Achievement Medal for lifesaving efforts

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Bahret
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
When Airman 1st Class Kyle Thomas joined the Air Force, he new the military would teach him some amazing skills. What Airman Thomas didn't know was that before reaching his first duty station, he'd apply the skills he learned in basic training to save a child's life. 

The aerospace ground equipment mechanic assigned to the 36th Maintenance Squadron was bowling at a Norman, Okla., bowling alley while on leave after competing nearly six months of technical training and six weeks of basic training when he heard a man call for help. His son was choking on a jawbreaker and the father didn't know what to do. 

Airman Thomas who was preparing to bowl reacted instantly after hearing the plea.
"It was a scary moment," he said recalling the memory. "It stunned me, but I just dropped the ball and ran." 

As he turned in response to the commotion, Airman Thomas saw Quinn Cardenas pulling his 7-year-old son out of the bathroom. He ran to the child's aid. 

"The child was on the ground blue in the face," said Airman Thomas. "His dad tried to pry the jawbreaker out with his finger. I told him not to, because the candy could get lodged deeper in his throat. 

The airman said what happened next came without thought. 

"I didn't think 'I need to do this or that,'" he said. "I knew I knew how to do it and I just did it." 

He picked Nick Cardenes up under the boy's arms and began administering the Heimlich maneuver. He said that after four compressions, the candy fell from the child's mouth. 

"At first, the boy went limp, but then he began gasping for air," said Airman Thomas. "His mom cried and his dad became emotional too. Both thanked me." 

Nicole Thomas, Airman Thomas' wife, and another childhood friend had joined Airman Thomas for an evening of bowling. Mrs. Thomas said they were surprised by her husband's reaction and could only stare slack-jawed as he responded. 

"I didn't know he knew how to do that," said Mrs. Thomas. "Basic [training] matured him a lot - it changed him for the better." 

After the lifesaving effort Airman Thomas quietly returned to his game. 

He said he learned the Heimlich in basic training. Before that, he never thought he'd need to perform any lifesaving skill. 

"I didn't think it was that big of a deal," said the 19-year-old. "Because of the training, I just reacted. You can't take it for granted; you have to retain it, because you never know when you'll need it." 

The 36th Maintenance Squadron recognized Airman Thomas recently in a commander's call. In front of the squadron, Maj. David Boles, 36th MXS commander, praised the young Airman for his efforts and presented Airman Thomas with the Achievement Medal. 

"It's good to know that the Air Force teaches these skills," said the major. "Sometimes you take the training for granted until you realize not everyone knows how to do it." 

Shortly after his lifesaving efforts, Airman Thomas also earned accolades from the Governor of Oklahoma Brad Henry, Congressman Tom Cole, Senator Jonathon Nichols, Mayor of Norman Harold Haralson, and the Norman Moose Lodge No. 1799 in a ceremony held at the Moose Lodge. 

"He was so overwhelmed by all the attention," said Mrs. Thomas. "I'm so proud of him - I thought he deserved everything." 

"I wasn't really expecting anything," said Airman Thomas. "A thank you would've worked for me."

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