Soldier Honored: Jason D. Cunningham
Hometown: Carlsbad, New Mexico
Branch of Service: Air Force
Rank: Senior Airman
Air Force Senior Airman Jason Decastro Cunningham was born on March 27, 1975. He grew up in Carlsbad, New Mexico and graduated from Farmington High School in May 1994. Cunningham was an athletic student, playing football, running track and swimming. He entered the Navy in 1994 and trained as an aviation boatswain’s mate. After his four-year enlistment, he entered the Air Force in April 1999 to enlist as a pararescueman because he “wanted to save lives.” Cunningham completed training in June 2001 and was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron, Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
On March 4, 2002 in Afghanistan, Cunningham was on board one of the two MH-47E Chinooks on his first combat mission to rescue a combat controller and a SEAL who were downed at Takur Ghar. Upon arriving, their aircraft was heavily hit and took a hard landing. After landing, Cunningham quickly tended to the wounded soldiers. During the attack he crossed the line of fire seven times, moving his patients to safety. While tending to his patients, Cunningham was fatally wounded but continued to treat his men for the next seven hours, as well as passing along vital information about their conditions until he lost consciousness. He was the first pararescue jumper to die in combat since the Vietnam War. He saved ten lives that day.
In 1994, Air Force Senior Airman Cunningham met his wife in the Navy, where she was also enlisted as a sailor. They were married in 1996 and had two daughters together. He is remembered for being “full of life and looking for new adventures.” Cunningham was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, only the second awarded since Vietnam.