Jason Cunningham was born on March 27, 1975, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July 1993 and went on active duty beginning July 13, 1994. After training as an Aviation Boatswain's Mate, he served at NSA Naples, Italy, from January 1995 until he left active duty on July 12, 1998. Cunningham then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on February 26, 1999, and was trained as a Pararescueman. After completing his training, he was assigned to the 38th Rescue Squadron of the 247th Operations Group at Moody AFB, Georgia, where he served from June 2001 until he was killed in action during the opening days of the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002. SRA Cunningham was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He left behind a wife, the former Theresa DeCastro, and two daughters, Kayla and Hannah.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, U.S.C., awards the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as a pararescueman near the village of Marzak in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on 4 March 2002. On that proud day, Airman Cunningham was the primary Air Force Combat Search and Rescue medic assigned to a Quick Reaction Force tasked to recover two American servicemen evading capture in austere terrain occupied by massed Al Qaida and Taliban forces. Shortly before landing, his MH-47E helicopter received accurate rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, severely disabling the aircraft and causing it to crash land. The assault force formed a hasty defense and immediately suffered three fatalities and five critical casualties. Despite effective enemy fire, and at great risk to his own life, Airman Cunningham remained in the burning fuselage of the aircraft in order to treat the wounded. As he moved his patients to a more secure location, mortar rounds began to impact within fifty feet of his position. Disregarding this extreme danger, he continued the movement and exposed himself to enemy fire on seven separate occasions. When the second casualty collection point was also compromised, in a display of uncommon valor and gallantry, Airman Cunningham braved an intense small arms and rocket-propelled grenade attack while repositioning the critically wounded to a third collection point. Even after he was mortally wounded and quickly deteriorating, he continued to direct patient movement and transferred care to another medic. In the end, 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.