Jason Cunningham awarded the Air Force Cross 
 13 September 2002 at Kirtland AFB, NM

Please Don't stand and Weep
Those men I had to save
Not because of Courage
or because I'm Brave

Not because of Orders
or because it was my Dream
I did it for my Brothers
I did it for the Team

So Please Don't weep for me
for all I had to give
I did it for a reason
"So That Others May Live"

Written by Jason's brother-in-law Jared Marquis

 

On 13 September 2002, the SECAF posthumously awarded the the Air Force Cross to Jason Cunningham. The ceremony was an extremely emotional event. Approximately 1400 persons were in attendance. Over 500 PJ's were in the audience, all proudly wearing  maroon berets. The PJ's included active duty, air national guard, reserve, and retirees. Many of these men were hardened combat veterans but were either moved to tears or close to it.

This web page provides details of the award ceremony and the events that led to the award.

Comments from Jason's mother. She titled them:

"What is the Price of America's Freedom?"

 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper presents the Air Force Cross to Theresa Cunningham (wife) and Mr. & Mrs. Cunningham (parents) of pararescueman and hero Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. on Sept. 13. Cunningham lost his life in Afghanistan while on a rescue mission. Despite being mortally wounded, he saved 10 lives and made it possible for seven others who were killed to come home. (Photo by Keith Wright) 

Secretary of the Air Force Speech - Full Text

 Air Force Chief of Staff Speech - Full Text

Hero awarded Air Force Cross

by Terry Walker
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

09/16/02 - KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN) -- Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, a pararescueman who lost his life in Afghanistan while saving 10 lives and making it possible for seven others who were killed to come home, was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross here Sept. 13.

The Air Force Cross is awarded for extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of our nation. It is second only to the Medal of Honor.

"We gather to salute his bravery and to reward his heroism," said Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche. "We gather to pay tribute to an airman who, on the field of battle, not only gave his life serving his nation, but also gave his life serving his fellow Americans."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper presented the Air Force Cross to Cunningham's wife, Theresa. Cunningham's parents, Lawrence and Jackie Cunningham, also received medals from Jumper.

"In the frailty of our human existence we are ill equipped to express the extremes of our emotions," Jumper said. "For in the peak of our love or the depths of our sorrow, we have only feeble words that never truly capture the peaks and valleys of our feelings.

"I stand before you today in the humble attempt to assemble the words to honor a hero, knowing in advance that my attempt will fall short of the tribute that is his due."

Cunningham, a Carlsbad, N.M., native, joined the Air Force's elite combat rescue program and graduated pararescue technical training here in June 2001. He was deployed to Southwest Asia in February 2002.

On March 4, Cunningham was the primary Air Force combat search and rescue medic assigned to a quick reaction force in Afghanistan. The force was sent to rescue two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by al-Qaida and Taliban forces.

Before landing, his MH-47E Chinook helicopter received rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire, disabling the aircraft and forcing it to crash-land. Crewmembers formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties.

The citation accompanying Cunningham's Air Force Cross reads, "Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat the wounds. As he moved his patients to a more secure location, mortar rounds began to impact within 50 feet of his position.

"Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to enemy fire on seven separate occasions. When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point."

The citation continues, "Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic. In the end, his distinct efforts led to the successful delivery of 10 gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment."

In remarks that seemed to capture Cunningham's spirit, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald Murray, said, "The former Navy petty officer considered joining the SEALS, but became an Air Force PJ. His reasoning? While other special operators search and destroy, PJs search and save."

Cunningham was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on March 11. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)

CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF
THE AIR FORCE CROSS 
POSTHUMOUS
TO
JASON D. CUNNINGHAM

 

Honoring a Hero 
by Terry Walker
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

KIRTLAND AFB, N.M., Sept. 13, 2002--Like the life it celebrated, the Sept. 13 Air Force Cross ceremony was short and beautiful and a little sad.  The dignitaries, and there were many, almost outnumbered the guests in the packed hangar.  Everyone wanted to honor this hero.

The pararescueman being recognized for his heroism is Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, who gave his life March 4, saving 10 lives and making it possible to bring back seven other Airmen who had been killed.

The audience was a sea of maroon PJ berets because the ceremony was held during the reunion of his comrades.  His family wanted it that way.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper presented the Air Force Cross to Theresa, Cunningham’s wife, and Lawrence and Jackie Cunningham, his parents.

The Air Force Cross is awarded for extraordinary heroism while engaged in action against an enemy of our nation.  Established by Congress in 1960, the award is second only to the Medal of Honor.

A tearful Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. James Roche, said, “We gather to salute his bravery and to reward his heroism.  We gather to pay tribute to an Airman who, on the field of battle, not only gave his life serving his nation, but also gave his life serving his fellow Americans.”

Honoring Cunningham, Jumper said, “In the frailty of our human existence we are ill equipped to express the extremes of our emotions.  For in the peak of our love for the depths of our sorrow, we have only feeble words that never truly capture the peaks and valleys of our feelings.

“I stand before you today in the humble attempt to assemble the words to honor a hero, knowing in advance that my attempt will fall short of the tribute that is his due.”

The Carlsbad, N.M., native joined the Air Force’s elite combat rescue program and graduated at Kirtland AFB in June 2001. He was deployed to Southwest Asia in February 2002.

On March 4, Cunningham was the primary Air Force combat search and rescue medic assigned to a quick reaction force in Afghanistan. The force was sent to rescue two American servicemen who had been evading capture in austere terrain occupied by Al Qaida and Taliban forces.

Before landing, his MH-47E helicopter received rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire—disabling the aircraft and forcing it to crash land.  They formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties. 

The citation accompanying Cunningham’s Air Force Cross reads, “Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat the wounds.  As he moved his patients to a more  secure location, mortar rounds began to impact within fifty feet of his position.

“Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to enemy fire on seven separate occasions.  When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point.”

The citation continues, “Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic.  In the end, his distinct efforts led to the successful delivery of ten gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment.”

In his remarks, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray, said, “The former Navy petty officer considered joining the SEALS, but became an Air Force PJ.  His reasoning?  While other special operators search and destroy, PJs search and save.”

 

A Poem titled "My Honor" written by a Andy Jones for Jason


Links to information about the award ceremony

Award Ceremony Program Cover

Award Ceremony Program Page 1

Award Ceremony Program Page 2

Award Ceremony Program Page 3

Award Ceremony Program Page 4

Award Ceremony Program Back Cover

Award Ceremony Program Insert 1 Jason's Goodbye Letter

Award Ceremony Program Insert 2 A Letter to Jason from His Father

Award Ceremony Layout

Albuquerque Journal Newspaper Article - part 1

Albuquerque Journal Newspaper Article - part 2

Albuquerque Journal Newspaper Article - part 3

     


The Air Force Cross
Congress established the AFC in 1960. Since then only twenty-two enlisted men have been awarded this medal. Twenty of these medals were awarded during the Vietnam War. Of those twenty, ten were awarded to Pararescuemen. Since the Vietnam War only two of these medals have been awarded. Both of them have been to Pararescuemen. Timothy Wilkinson receive one for heroism in Somalia and now Jason Cunningham has received his for heroism in Afghanistan.

 

Events that led to Jason being awarded the Air Force Cross

Synopsis - In press briefings, the Pentagon called it "Operation Anaconda." The press have also referred to it as the battle at Shah-i-Kot Mountain. But the men who fought there, call it the battle on Robert's Ridge.

Many of the details of this battle are still classified. We do know that Pararescueman Jason Cunningham and Combat Controller John Chapman were killed in action. The SAR objective was USN SEAL Neil Roberts, who was left on the ground on during a team insertion by a CH-46 on 4 March 2002.

Below is information obtained from multiple unclassified sources.  Also on the ground during the battle was Pararescueman Kerry Miller. He also fought bravely and provided emergency medical care to Jason (and many others) until they were medevaced out. 

I suggest that you read the below articles in the order they are listed. Doing so may allow you to extrapolate what Jason and John were doing when they were killed. The  PJs who have access to all the classified documents tell me that if anything, the unclassified information understates the heroism of Jason Cunningham and John Chapman. Both  these men died "So That Others May Live." 

Jason Cunningham was awarded the Air Force Cross on 13 September 2002. This is the highest decoration for heroism that can be awarded by the USAF. No award will bring Jason back to us; but it does honor him for the ultimate sacrifice he made "So That Other's May Live." We are all more proud of Jason than words can say.

Combat Controller (Gabe Brown) Recalls Operation Anaconda

PJ TSgt Keary Miller's Report from Taku Ghar

Ambush at Takur Ghar

22 April Newsweek Article - Available in PDF format only

AF Times Article - MS Word
AF Times Article  - PDF
Cover of 18 April AF Times Featuring Jason Cunningham
Los Angeles Times Article - MS Word
Los Angeles Times Article - PDF

Information Unofficially Released by SEALs - MS Word

Information Unofficially Released by SEALs - PDF

Leave No Man Behind - MS Word

Leave No Man Behind - PDF

AF Times Article "Killed in Action" - available in PDF only

Official Moody AFB News Release re: Cunningham- MS Word

Official Moody AFB News Release re: Cunningham- PDF

AP News Release re: Chapman - MS Word

AP News Release re: Chapman - PDF

Sydney Morning Herald News Report - MS Word

Sydney Morning Herald News Report - PDF

Map of the Battle Area - JPG

Report from a PJ who Attended Jason's Funeral at Arlington - MS Word

Report from a PJ who Attended Jason's Funeral at Arlington - PDF

Photos of Jason's Funeral at Arlington National Cemetery
Albuquerque Journal Newspaper Report about Cunningham - MS Word
Albuquerque Journal Newspaper Report about Cunningham - PDF

Slide Show of Memorials and Operation Anaconda
To change slides, click the text on the left side of your screen. To exit, use your browsers back button.

Photo of Jason at his PJ School graduation being awarded his beret by  SMSgt Robert LaPointe (photo courtesy of the AFSOC History Office)

TSgt John Chapman

Click thumbnails for full size photo

SRA Jason Cunnigham

chapman.jpg (5958 bytes)

casket.jpg (8716 bytes)
CCT John Chapman's body is returned to the USA.

cunningham.jpg (28641 bytes)

Arlington Jason.jpg (69626 bytes)
Jason Cunningham Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

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