Monday, March 4, 2013

SrA Jason Cunningham

On March 4, 2002, SrA (Senior Airman) Jason Cunningham was killed in action during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

Living by his motto, surrounded by death, SrA Cunningham chose to save the lives of others than care for his own wounds.

An MH47E- Chinook Helicopte, Razor 3, was on approach to the Takhur Ghar Mountain with a Naval SEAL team on board.  They were to be dropped onto the mountain to observe and take in intel on an al-Qaida.  The Chinook met up with a fusillade of enemy machine gun fire and rocket propelled fire that took out the vital hydraulic lines.Quickly thinking the pilot jerked the aircraft out of harms way, and was forced to land four miles from the insertion point - the heart of enemy territory.  Unfortunately, during the fire and quick maneuvers Naval SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts had fallen out of the Chinook and was left behind....

Minutes after Roberts had fallen, through aerial surveillance, the command base back at Bagram AB witnessed the disturbing reality of watching the al-Qaida guerillas capture and take him away.

Once on the ground, the mission had changed - search for and rescue Roberts.

45 minutes after they had landed, Razor 4 landed, the crew of Razor 3 boarded and were returned to base.  Razor 4 then took another SEAL team and an AF Combat Controller back to the scene were Roberts had fallen out.  The team received constant updates on Roberts whereabouts and the enemies around him.  Though they took on fire, Razor 4 was able to drop off it's Team safely for them to complete their mission.

Back at the base; Razor 1 and Razor 2 were taking off. Razor 1 consisted of approximately 15 Rangers, an Air Force Tactical Air Controller, 2 PJs, and an AF Combat Controller.  SrA Cunningham was one of those PJs ready for his first mission.

The sun had risen and their was no surprise as Razor 1 approached and the enemy was waiting.  Heavy machine gun and grenade fire erupted from the mountainside while the helicopter tried to land.  A rocket propelled grenade (RPG) his the aircraft in the tail rotor while it was still a good 80 feet from the ground, and bullets shattered the cockpit glass.  Rounds came flying in smashing one pilot's thigh bone and another knocked off his helmet.  The other pilot took a bullet fragment leaving a silver-dollar sized hole in his wrist and another  also ripped into his thigh.

The aircraft hit hard, but no one was injured due to the crash.

al-Qaida had taken positions 100 - 200 meters up the slope and began hitting the landed aircraft heavily.  The +Rangers ran off the back ramp - 2 or 3 died or badly wounded immediately.  The pilots opened their doors and flopped out onto the ground.

The +Chinooks door gunners took aim with their 7.62 mm miniguns to provide cover for the remaining Rangers.  Through the "Predator" (surveillance) those who were back at the base were stunned when they witnessed the left door gunner fall from his perch into the cold snow, motionless.

The survivors quickly started to fight back setting up a Ranger M-203 grenadier destroying the nearest al-Qaida position.  Unfortunately, a RPG had been shot at the Chinook and the guerilla walked back to another location and was able to launch another grenade at it.  The cargo area of the Chinook was still intact and was used as the casualty collection point.

SrA Cunningham, another PJ and two Army medics quickly went to work. All of his training was finally being put to worse on this freezing cold mountain, surrounded by enemy fire.  To add to all that could go wrong with the mission, the front end of the Chinook finally went up in flames.  Enemy fire increased all around them and mortars rocked the Chinook fiercely while Cunningham and his fellow medics worked on their bleeding colleagues.

After four hours, the Chinook was deemed no longer safe for the patients.  Using a sled like piece of metal, Cunningham proceeded to move the patients away from the Chinook, thus crossing enemy lines seven times.

A quick reaction force team had landed some 330 feet from where they were located.  Taking on heavy fire they made their way to the where Cunningham and the others were at.  The Commander of the team decided they needed to try and take out the bunker in which the enemy fire was coming from.  Cunningham volunteered to go on the attack but was instructed to stay back where his medical skills were needed.

The Rangers were stopped quickly, but do to the air support of F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Flying Falcons, the bunker and the enemies inside did not survive.  Bomb after bomb was dropped on the enemy positions with pin point accuracy.

However, the enemy forced Cunningham and the others to keep moving - two more times.  The third and final location was by the helicopter leaving them exposed.  The Army medic was shot twice in the abdomen.

At 1232 Cunningham was hit while he was treating a patient, just below his body armor.  The bullet traveled low through his right side across his pelvis, causing serious internal injuries.  He knew he was seriously injured but continued to treat his patients, giving one of his two blood packets to a wounded Ranger.  With his own blood flowing out onto the white snow, the other was given to him.

The Combat Controller wanted to report that the LZ (landing zone) was cold, safe to land.  but he couldn't.  He couldn't have another failed attempt risking more lives.  This decision sealed Cunningham's fate.

SrA Jason Cunningham survived for seven hours after being shot.  CPR was performed for over 30 minutes with prayers that he would survive.

SrA Jason Cunningham was the first +USAF +Pararescuemen to have been killed in war since +Vietnam.  Seven bodies were brought back, all the wounded that Cunningham and the medics worked on survived.

"That Others May Live"