Bagram Airfield service members honor Air Force hero

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Men and women from every military service dedicated their day to honoring one of the Air Force's fallen heroes here March 4.

The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing hosted a ruck march, remembrance ceremony and celebratory barbecue to honor the 10th anniversary of pararescueman Senior Airman Jason Cunningham's sacrifice for his country.

Cunningham was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Sept. 13, 2002, for his extraordinary heroism while engaged in combat against an enemy. He provided medical aid to wounded service members while under fire and relocated them to three different casualty collection points after each one was overrun. His actions saved 10 lives and allowed the bodies of seven fallen warriors to return home with honor. Bagram Airfield dedicated a compound in Cunningham's memory.

The day started with the remembrance ruck march. A spokesperson said more than 270 supporters showed up in the early hours of a misty day to take part in the march. Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians strapped on 35 pounds of gear and marched 7.6 miles through puddles and rocks to show their appreciation for Cunningham's dedication to duty.

Bagram Airfield service members then assembled for the Senior Airman Jason Cunningham Remembrance Ceremony. The ceremony featured a retelling of the events at Roberts Ridge, the mission in which Cunningham gave his life, and the reading of his Air Force Cross citation.

Lt. Col. Spencer Cocanour, the 21st Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron commander, was the narrator on the day Camp Cunningham was originally dedicated to the senior airman. Fittingly, he was present to speak at the remembrance ceremony eight years later.

"The motto of special tactics is 'First there ... That others may live,'" Cocanour said. "Jason followed a quick reaction force and gave everything he had, including his life, so others may live.

"Jason Cunningham was ready to go that day," he said. "When they called his name, his heart beat faster, his adrenalin was pumping ... he was in the zone. He went in knowing it was dangerous. He knew the enemy was there, on the attack, and knew there was U.S. wounded and dead on the battlefield. He knew all of this, yet he never faltered ... never hesitated. He was all in."

Cocanour went on to explain that the reason the military names camps, streets and buildings after "true professionals and fallen heroes" is to honor their memory. He said it serves to remind service members of those people who gave everything right to their last breath.

To emphasize the example set by Cunningham, Cocanour cited a famous quote to the audience.

"George Orwell said it well," he said. "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand in violence on their behalf. Jason Cunningham was one of those men. We should all strive to be the same."

Brig. Gen. Thomas Deale, the 455th AEW commander, also spoke in honor of Cunningham's remembrance ceremony.

"Jason's was a life of significance," Deale said. "He made an impact. He truly embodied our Air Force core values: Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. When you listen to that remarkable story, on that day, on that ridgeline, you see that we lost great Airmen; Airmen who weren't afraid to stand up and answer the call when it came. I am proud of them."

Deale commented that Cunningham, being one of the most junior ranks, set an example of getting the mission done that Deale, as a brigadier general, follows.

He then issued a challenge to the audience.

"I ask you to reflect on your service, look at those core values and bring it every day," Deale said. "It's what we need. It's the only way we are going to get the mission done here. Senior Airman Cunningham knew that. And when you see it out there, and you recognize it, it should make you proud."

Deale and Cocanour then placed a wreath in front of Cunningham's shadow box and rendered a ceremonial salute. A flight of Airmen also marched to the shadow box and saluted to honor Cunningham's memory.