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Remembering our Heritage

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rito Smith
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A majority of Airmen assigned to Bagram Airfield live on a compound called Camp Cunningham, but few know the story of the hero whose name it bears.

“It is extremely important that we remember our heritage, and one significant way we do this is by honoring our teammates who gave their lives in support of our country,” said Brig. Gen. David B. Lyons, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham was a Carlsbad, New Mexico native who joined the Air Force’s elite combat rescue training program and graduated pararescue training in June 2001.

Shortly after being deployed to Southwest Asia in 2002, he found himself as the primary Air Force combat search and rescue medic assigned to a quick reaction force.

On March 4, 2002, Cunningham’s team was sent to rescue American service members who were evading capture in Paktia Province, Afghanistan. As their team landed, their helicopter was hit with multiple rocket-propelled grenades and riddled with machine gun fire that killed or wounded several onboard.

Cunningham immediately began providing trauma care and moved the wounded out of the burning helicopter. For several hours he returned fire while simultaneously moving casualties to safety.

His actions saved lives, but made him vulnerable to enemy fire. Even after he was critically wounded, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic before eventually succumbing to his wounds.

That evening after the battle, more helicopters arrived and all U.S. personnel, including the seven who had been killed in action, were taken from the battlefield. Seven days later, Cunningham was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery on March 11, 2002.

Cunningham was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross Sept. 13, 2002, for the selflessness he displayed that day.

According to the award citation, “His distinct efforts led to the successful delivery of ten gravely wounded Americans to life-saving medical treatment … Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, and in the dedication of his service to his country, Senior Airman Cunningham reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

In February, 2004, the valiant actions of Senior Airman Jason Cunningham were memorialized at Bagram Airfield with a marble monument in front of the air traffic control tower and the camp officially being named after him.

 “The naming of Camp Cunningham memorialized Jason and his extraordinary service for all future Vultures to see,” Lyons said. “He remains a beacon for us all, and we strive to be worth of the legacy he left us each and every day. He will never be forgotten.”