MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- The flag is flying at half staff at Moody Air Force Base -- it has suffered its first casualty in America's war on terrorism.
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, 26, of Camarillo, Calif., a pararescueman with the 38th Rescue Squadron, was killed in action by small arms fire while on board a MH-47 Chinook helicopter at approximately 8:15 a.m. local time Sunday, according to a news release by the Public Affairs Office, 347th Rescue Wing.
At the time, Cunningham was on a mission to rescue members of a team who had been inserted in eastern Afghanistan in support of Enduring Freedom. Cunningham was one of eight men killed during Operation Anaconda, said Brig Gen. John Folkerts, commander, 347th Rescue Wing, Moody AFB.
Three of the men killed also came from a military installation in Georgia. They were members from the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Infantry stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, and were identified as Sgt. Bradley Crose, 27, Orange Park, Fla.; Spec. 4 Marc Anderson, 30, Brandon, Fla.; and Pfc. Matthew Commons, 21, Boulder City, Nev.
Folkerts said that Cunningham's body was en route from Ramstein AFB, Germany, to Dover AFB, Del., by C-5A aircraft. He did not know its exact arrival time.
Cunningham began his military career in 1995 and served several years with the U.S. Navy.
"He transferred to the U.S. Air Force because he wanted to be a pararescueman," Folkerts said. "He spent the first almost two years of the Air Force going through PJ indoctrination school and the multitude of training requirements that they have to go through."
Pararescuemen go through about a 21-month training program that includes military free-fall jumps, Navy underwater egress training and emergency medical technical training, Folkerts said.
"They're highly skilled combat medics that can be infiltrated through a variety of aircraft means, fixed wing and rotary wing (helicopter) platforms. They are skilled in scuba, HALO (High Altitude Low Opening), HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) free fall jumps and all sorts of ways to maneuver on the ground and lots of weapons training associated with it."
Cunningham arrived at Moody last summer and had been assigned to the 38th RQS for about six months, Folkerts said. He was deployed approximately 30 days ago and had been in Afghanistan for that time.
Folkerts said one of the hardest things to do as a commander is to send your people off to war and at the same time have to comfort loved ones when they don't return.
"The entire Moody team feels this particular loss," Folkerts said. "It will be some time before we get over this. This drives the nature of our war on combating terrorism right to the bone and right to the heart, because Jason was a member of our family."
Folkerts said that Cunningham was doing what he had been trained for -- rescue.
"That is what Jason trained to do -- that is what pararescuemen train to do," he said. "Jason died doing the mission that he had trained so hard for the last couple of years to accomplish."
Cunningham is survived by his wife and two daughters. A team of professionals at Moody are taking care of the family's needs, Folkerts said.
"We wish to express our deepest condolences to Jason's family, as well as the other families involved in this unfortunate tragedy," Folkerts said. "Each and every member of the wing shares in the sorrow felt by his loved ones. We must not forget the valuable contributions Jason made to his country and the impact he has left on the U.S. Air Force and PJ community."
Folkerts also stressed that the Moody AFB community would appreciate it, out of respect for Cunningham, if everyone would allow his family some peace at this time so they may grieve.
There will be a memorial service later this week, and it will be a family decision whether it will be open to public, Folkerts said.
To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.