Fallen Marine puts duty in perspective

SCIO, N.Y. -- The family of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham has keepsakes displayed in their living room and encased in a wooden, six-foot tall cabinet. President George W. Bush announced Nov. 10 that Corporal Dunham would receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for actions that saved the lives of two fellow Marines in April 2004. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn)

SCIO, N.Y. -- The family of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham has keepsakes displayed in their living room and encased in a wooden, six-foot tall cabinet. President George W. Bush announced Nov. 10 that Corporal Dunham would receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for actions that saved the lives of two fellow Marines in April 2004. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn)

SCIO, N.Y. -- Parents Deb and Dan Dunham visit the grave of their son, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, at Fairlawn Cemetery Nov. 3. President George W. Bush announced Nov. 10 that Corporal Dunham would receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for actions that saved the lives of two fellow Marines in April 2004. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn)

SCIO, N.Y. -- Parents Deb and Dan Dunham visit the grave of their son, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, at Fairlawn Cemetery Nov. 3. President George W. Bush announced Nov. 10 that Corporal Dunham would receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for actions that saved the lives of two fellow Marines in April 2004. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Editor's Note: This editorial first ran in the June 3, 2004 Satellite Flyer. President Bush announced in a ceremony Nov. 10 that Cpl. Jason Dunham would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for the actions cited in this commentary.

As part of my duties, I scan the Early Bird, which is a collection of news articles from around the country put together by the Department of Defense that relate to the military.

Most mornings, little if anything in the Early Bird catches my eye. The morning of May 25, 2004, was different, however -- not because it was related to Schriever but because of how it related to my sense of duty as a member of the armed forces.

The story I read that morning was about a Marine corporal almost two years younger than me who is now to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.

His story exemplifies the Air Force Core Value of Service Before Self. I was recently assigned as a Resource Augmentation Duty (READY) augmentee. At first I was disappointed by the long hours I would have to work and not being able to do the job I love, writing about and photographing what goes on here at Schriever.

After reading what this young corporal did in Iraq, I felt selfish and ashamed.

In April 2004, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Kilo Company, and two other Marines were in an outpost in Iraq discussing theories on surviving a grenade attack. Corporal Dunham's theory was that a Kevlar helmet held over the grenade might contain the blast.

Unfortunately, events later that month proved him wrong.

On the morning of April 14, Corporal Dunham was in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, leading a 14-man foot patrol to scout sites for a new base when radio reports came in about a roadside bomb hitting another group of Marines not far away. The radio reports said insurgents had ambushed a convoy that included the Battalion Commander.

Corporal Dunham's patrol was en route near the town of Husaybah, Iraq, when they heard the distinctive whizzing sound of rocket-propelled grenades overhead. They split into two teams to hunt for the shooters.

Corporal Dunham's team came to an intersection and saw a line of seven Iraqi vehicles along a dirt alleyway and started checking the vehicles for weapons. He approached a white sport utility vehicle. The driver immediately lunged out and grabbed the corporal by the throat. The corporal kneed the man in the chest, and the two men fell to the ground.

Two other Marines rushed to the scene, a few yards away another Marine heard Corporal Dunham yell, "No, no, no -- watch his hand!"

What appears to have been in the Iraqi man's hand was a "Mills Bomb" hand grenade. The grenade works by pulling a safety pin out and then holding a lever until the user is ready to detonate the weapon. The bomb usually explodes three to five seconds after the lever is released.

Marines later found what they believe to be the pin from the grenade in the truck after the explosion, suggesting the Iraqi man had the grenade in his hand ready to use before he began wrestling with Corporal Dunham.

No one saw exactly what happened after Corporal Dunham yelled out his warning, but they believe the corporal spotted the grenade and placed his helmet and body on top of it to protect his squad mates. The scraps of Kevlar found scattered across the street support their conclusion. His fellow Marines believe Corporal Dunham made a split-second decision to try out his theory that a helmet might blunt the blast from a grenade.

The corporal was rushed to emergency medical care where he was stabilized but in critical condition. He was eventually transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. At one point he was even upgraded to serious condition, however his condition quickly deteriorated and he died April 22.

The next time you are asked to work late, take on additional duties, give up your weekend or make other small sacrifices, remember Corporal Dunham and the sacrifice he made.

When I am called to augmentee duty, I will be ready for the long shifts, hard work and time away from home. I will be proud to do my part to help free up more security forces Airmen to do the important job of protecting Air Force people and property around the world.