|A Tribute to a Hero|
A Tribute to a Hero
Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper (center) comforts Theresa Cunningham, wife of pararescueman and hero Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham during the Air Force Cross presentation ceremony held at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., on Sept. 13. Cunningham was killed during a rescue mission in Afghanistan on March 4. Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche is on the left.
Photo by Dennis Carlson
Remarks at the Air Force Cross ceremony by Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force for Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. September 13, 2002.
Theresa, Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham, Mr. and Mrs. Castro, family and friends, members of Congress and state legislature, General (John) Jumper, Chief (Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald) Murray, dedicated members of our great Air Force, our colleagues from other services, distinguished visitors, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
We gather today at this solemn event to honor a very special American hero who walked in the tradition of the two heroes who are here today, (Maj.) Tom Newman and (Chief Master Sgt.) Joel Talley. We gather to salute his bravery, 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. We gather to present the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Jason Dean Cunningham.
The personal sacrifice of Americans in battle has been recounted repeatedly throughout the history of our great nation. On occasion, amidst the horrors of combat, we see flashes of personal valor that shine so brightly, they become visible to us even through the darkness in the gloom of warfare. Such was the gallantry of Senior Airman Jason Cunningham.
They called it the Battle of Robert's Ridge named for a Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, killed by Al Qaeda forces after falling from his helicopter in the early morning hours of March 4, 2002. Most of have read accounts of the intense combat that raged amidst the snowy 10,000-foot mountains of eastern Afghanistan that day. There were many brave men who voluntarily went into harm's way, on the ground and in the air. And as several eyewitnesses have noted, many men performed with extraordinary courage during that 15-hour battle. Among those brave men, pararescuemen Jason Cunningham stands out.
In just a few moments, we'll read the citation that recounts Jason's gallantry in the face of intense, accurate and deadly enemy fire. As a result of his extraordinary heroism, his team returned 10 seriously wounded Americans to live-saving medical care and successfully recovered seven fallen comrades. With this decoration, the highest decoration our Air Force can bestow, we'll humbly pay homage to his bravery, his selflessness and his enduring sacrifice.
The words of this citation and our comments today, however, cannot compensate the loss of a husband, father, brother and son. Jason was just 26 years old...was full of hopes and dreams...a wonderful family man who was invigorated by the challenges of military service and the pararescue profession. Pararescuemen are very favored to me...as are all of those involved in combat search and rescue. Reflecting my own background in Vietnam, so very poignant to me as a former Navy person, to award a decoration for extraordinary courage and gallantry to an airman who was a former sailor. In the tradition of the entire pararescue profession, past and present. Jason stepped into the breach and sacrificed himself so that others might live.
He put on his uniform everyday and proudly represented the United States Air Force and the United States of America. For that, each of us should be thankful. We should admire his service and sacrifice, and we should emulate his dedication and his sense of excellence. For those who knew him personally, Jason was an uplifting force in their lives. Through his family and friends and through the PJs who follow in his footsteps, his spirit lives on. With this award, one-half of the enlisted airmen who have received the Air Force Cross will be PJs . On behalf of the U. S. Air Force and a grateful nation, we present this award as recognition of his extraordinary heroism and as a symbol of our deep gratitude of his loyal and honorable service. Thank you and may God bless America.