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|SrA Jason D. Cunningham United States Air Force|
Cunningham training to become an Air Force pararescueman (PJ).
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch|| United States Air Force
United States Navy (former)
|Years of service||1995-2002|
|Unit||38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base, Georgia|
|Battles/wars||War in Afghanistan|
|Awards|| Air Force Cross
Meritorious Service Medal
Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham was a United States Air Force pararescueman who was killed in action on March 4, 2002 while taking part in Operation Anaconda during the US war in Afghanistan. Cunningham was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions during this engagement, which were credited with helping to save the lives of ten wounded soldiers.
Early life and service
Cunningham was born on March 27, 1975 and was a native of Carlsbad, New Mexico. He enlisted in the United States Navy in February 1995. While at his duty station on September 25, 1995 in Naples, Italy, Cunningham met Theresa de Castro, a Navy enlisted woman who would later become his wife and mother of his two daughters. Cunningham thought about joining the United States Navy SEALs and had passed the fitness test, but decided instead to train to become an Air Force pararescueman. He left the Navy in 1998 and joined the Air Force in 1999. He completed the 21-month pararescue training in June 2001, and was deployed to Afghanistan in February 2002. In Afghanistan, Cunningham was stationed at Bagram Air Base. While at Bagram, Senior Airman Cunningham successfully pushed to allow pararescueman to carry whole blood into combat, which had not been allowed previously due to its status as an "FDA controlled substance".
Battle of Takur Ghar
In the early morning of March 4, 2002, two SEAL teams under the command of TF 11 were tasked to establish an observation point (OP) on the peak of Takur Ghar to support on-going U.S. and Afghan military operations in the Shahi-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda. As a result of command and control ambiguities, resulting from a change in command over the US special forces in the operation, and mechanical difficulties with the two MH-47E Chinook helicopters that were to insert the SEAL teams, a landing zone was chosen on the peak itself instead of a landing zone offset of the peak. The SEALs experienced heavy resistance from the Taliban and Al-Qaida forces entrenched on Takur Ghar, suffering several casualties and heavy damage to the Chinooks. The SEALs requested the assistance of the Army Ranger Quick reaction force stationed at Bagram Air Base, of which Senior Airman Cunningham was attached as part of a US Air Force Special Tactics team.
The Quick reaction force experienced communications difficulties en route to Takur Ghar, and did not receive the correct coordinates for the offset landing zone. Instead, the force attempted to land at the peak around 0610 hours and the Chinook carrying Cunningham was shot down after a RPG destroyed the helicopter's right engine. Heavy rifle and machine gun fire was directed at the downed Chinook, causing "three fatalities and five critical casualties."  Cunningham quickly went to work inside the aircraft on Specialist Marc Anderson, but Anderson had died immediately after being hit by small-arms fire as the Rangers began to leave the Chinook. Cunningham remained inside the helicopter, which remained a large target for the Taliban and Al-Qaida forces, to treat the wounded along with an Army medic, Cory Lamereaux. The soldiers inside the Chinook were visible to enemy fighters on the peak, forcing Cunningham and Lamereaux to move the wounded under enemy small-arms and mortar fire from the Chinook to a location behind the helicopter with less exposure to enemy fire.  Cunningham and Lamereaux were able to stabilize the casualties, but they required helicopter medevac. After reinforcements had arrived and the Rangers had cleared the peak and were awaiting extraction and medevac pickup, a small enemy group counterattacked. While continuing to administer an IV to a wounded aircrew member, Cunningham and Lamereaux were hit. Cunningham was hit in the pelvic region at 1232 hours and was bleeding heavily. He was listed as an "urgent surgical" casualty, which requires immediate evacuation in order to save the patient's life.  However, commanders were wary to commit another helicopter in daylight, even though the on-scene tactical air controller said it was safe to do so with adequate close air support. While waiting for medevac, Senior Airman Cunningham died of his wounds at approximately 1810 hours. Helicopters arrived at 2015 hours to evacuate the remaining Rangers, SEALs, and their casualties.
Burial and awarding of the Air Force Cross
After his death, Senior Airman Cunningham's body was returned to the United States and he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on March 11, 2002. Cunningham was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions on Takur Ghar, which were credited in the award citation with saving 10 lives. Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. Jumper presented the awards to Cunningham's wife and parents at a ceremony on Kirtland Air Force Base on September 13, 2002. Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray remarked at the ceremony, that "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." 
In honor of Senior Airman Cunningham's actions, the Moody AFB Airman Leadership School was dedicated renamed for him. Also, according to his widow, now an Air Force first lieutenant, "a compound at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan has been named Camp Cunningham and ... a portion of the basic training facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio will be named in honor of Jason." 
Notes and references
After his death, Jason's brother wrote a poem about him
Please don't stand and weep
Those men I had to save
Not just 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"
- Arana-Barradas, Louis A. (November 2002). Air Force honors fallen hero. Airman.
- Jowers, Karen (September 9, 2002). "Guarding a Legacy". Air Force Times.
- Walker, Terry. Air Force Print News. "Hero awarded Air Force Cross".
- Naylor, Sean D. (April 29, 2002). "An Act of Courage". Air Force Times p. 14.
- Part 1: Ambush at Takur Ghar
- Part 2: Ambush at Takur Ghar
- Air Force Honors Fallen Hero
- Hero Awarded Air Force Cross
- Arlington National Cemetery collection of media articles
- An Act of Courage (pdf)
- VFW Magazine: Valor in the Face of the Enemy - Air Force Cross awarded to Senior Airman Jason Dean Cunningham
- Naylor, Sean. "Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda." Penguin Group (New York), 2005.
- Hirsh, Michael. "None Braver: U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terrorism." 2004.