Australian officer awarded US medal for missile defence work

Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), CPOIS Cameron Martin (photographer)

Topic(s): Nulka active missile decoy, Commendation

Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead AM, RAN presents a US Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal to Fleet Weapons Engineering Officer, Commander Cadeyrn Okely. (photo: CPOIS Cameron Martin)
Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead AM, RAN presents a US Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal to Fleet Weapons Engineering Officer, Commander Cadeyrn Okely.

A Royal Australian Navy Officer has been awarded the United States Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his work in helping to develop defences against anti-ship missiles.

Weapons Electrical Engineering Officer Commander Cadeyrn Okely was presented his medal by Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead, and United States Senator Richard Shelby.

Commander Okely spent three years posted to Washington DC as a Liaison Officer, working with the United States Navy to develop the next generation of NULKA — a decoy rocket system designed to seduce incoming enemy missiles away from their targets.

Fleet Weapons Engineering Officer, Commander Cadeyrn Okely with his family, wife Lieutenant Kristie Okely, daughter Soraya Okely, and father John Okely, following the presentation of the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal at Fleet Headquarters.

Fleet Weapons Engineering Officer, Commander Cadeyrn Okely with his family, wife Lieutenant Kristie Okely, daughter Soraya Okely, and father John Okely, following the presentation of the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal at Fleet Headquarters.

He found the exchange assignment working on advanced technology to be challenging at times, with many invested stakeholders to satisfy around the world.

“I worked on the project during its engineering manufacturing and developing phase through to low-rate initial production,” Commander Okely said.

“My biggest challenges were managing a dislocated workforce over two continents, trying to develop a product which pushed the laws of physics and trying to align Australian and American acquisition processes in order to satisfy both nations’ needs.”

“The only way I was able to work through these challenges was by continually nurturing a collaborative environment and ensuring everybody kept working towards a clearly defined goal – developing a capability that protects our men and women at sea.”

Despite the different national and work cultures, Commander Okely was surprised by how accepting people were and how easy it was to work in an American environment.

“Working with the United States Navy was an amazing experience and enabled me to see how truly impressive their military capability is, and understand first-hand how well-regarded Australian military personnel are perceived,” he said.

“They love our professionalism and work ethic, yet at the same time they also love our sense of humour and continuously fail at trying to mimic our accents and Crocodile Dundee quotes.”

Commander Okely said receiving an American medal for his work over three years was a profound feeling.

“I felt honoured to have been presented this award, noting the rigorous process it must go through for a foreign national to receive it and the amount of other deserving personnel involved in the project,” he said.

“I’m proud of what both our countries were able to collaboratively achieve despite the many challenges we faced and I’m thankful for the trust and support given to me by their chain of command and the autonomy provided by my team back in Australia.”

“Mostly I’m thankful to my wife and daughter for supporting me through the experience.”

Commander Okely is now the Fleet Weapons Electrical Engineering Officer, providing mentoring and guidance to ships across the Navy from Fleet Headquarters in Sydney.

His time in the United States has equipped him with advice for any other officers or sailors considering a posting overseas.

“I would tell anyone wanting to go on an exchange program to grasp it with both hands because the professional and personal experience is challenging and absolutely invaluable,” he said.