News: 'First there...that others may live': USAF hero honored at Bagram
Story by Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Men and women from every service dedicated their day to honoring one of the Air Force's fallen heroes at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, March 4, 2012. 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 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 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, Coasties 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 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, 21st Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron commander, was the narrator on the day Camp Cunningham was originally dedicated to Cunningham. 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'," said Cocanour. "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 we name camps, streets and buildings after our true professionals and fallen heroes is to honor their memory. He said it serves to remind us of those 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, 455th AEW commander, also spoke in honor of Cunningham's remembrance ceremony.
"Jason's was a life of significance," said Deale. "He made an impact. He truly embodied our Air Force corps 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 corps 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.