MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- The memory of a pararescueman who received the Air Force Cross posthumously will remain as long as young airmen pass through the Airman Leadership School's doors.
Moody Air Force Base honored Senior Airman Jason Cunningham on Thursday with a dedication at the school.
Distinguished guests included the airman's widow, 2nd Lt. Theresa Cunningham, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Cunningham, and his brother, Chris. Also attending was Maj. Gen. (select) John Folkerts, vice commander Air Force Special Operations Command. Folkerts was commander of the 347th Rescue Wing when Cunningham, assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron, was killed during Operation Anaconda on March 4, 2002, in Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Jerry Childs, ALS flight chief, thanked those present for sharing a defining moment in the history of professional military education at Moody.
"The enlisted heritage of the Air Force is filled with men and women of phenomenal courage, stalwart character and unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom," Childs said. "Today this institution will honor the name of one such man to its title -- Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham. Senior Airman Cunningham was the recipient of one of America's highest military honors -- the Air Force Cross."
Since its inception in 1960 only 22 enlisted men have received it. Cunningham is only one of two airmen to have received the Air Force after the Vietnam War, Childs said.
"It is our hope that the dedication of this airman leadership school in his honor, will be a fitting tribute to Senior Airman Cunningham and an enduring legacy of our enlisted heritage," Childs said. "We extend our deepest heart felt appreciation to Lieutenant Theresa Cunningham for granting us the privilege of this honor, also a very special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Cunningham for traveling here to be with us today. Your presence makes the day even more meaningful for us all."
Making the presentation on behalf of the 38th RQS to the ALS was Chief Master Sgt. Don Shelton (Ret.) who was the chief of pararescue with the 38th RQS at Moody when Cunningham was first assigned to Moody.
The 38th RQS presented a photo of Cunningham and a citation to the Airman Leadership School. Moody couldn't have selected a more appropriate individual to dedicate and name their school after, Shelton said.
"Jason epitomized what I consider the responsibilities and the goals of airman leadership," he said. "Jason was the kind of individual, even though he was very short on experience, having only served about eight months as an operational pararescueman, he was mature beyond his years. Jason was always trying to make things better."
Col. Brad Heithold, commander, 347th Rescue Wing, told Cunningham's family that he knew it was difficult for them to be there, but that it was special to Moody and the community so that they could reflect on the heroism of the son and husband.
"We need to continue to do this as difficult as it may be. We must continue to do these kind of things for the 359,000 airmen we have in our Air Force," Heithold said. "Your son, if I could get 359,000 just like him -- that's what I'd ask for."
Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham and their son Chris had traveled from New Mexico to attend the dedication. Mr. Cunningham struggled to explain his feelings Thursday.
"You come to something like this and it really starts to sink in, that you just miss your son," Mr. Cunningham said. "But, then you really start to think exactly what he did, and what it means to everybody in America."
The events of two years ago are still fresh in Folkerts memory. He keeps a picture of Chief Master Sgt. Shelton and Lt. Col. Vinnie Savino, 38th RQS commander on his desk. The photo was taken at Arlington National Cemetery on the day Cunningham was laid to rest.
"I keep that on my desk to remind myself that every young airman I meet and interact with is a precious person and someone we need to take care of, and I use that each and every day," Folkerts said.
To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.
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