Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
A Tuskegee airman and other airmen who died in Afghanistan and Vietnam are now memorialized on dormitories at Kirtland Air Force Base.
The base last week held a ceremony to name the dorms after the airmen who “epitomize Air Force Core Values.” All four of the individuals had ties to the base in Albuquerque.
“Memorialization of a building on an Air Force base is no small matter,” Col. Jason Vattioni, the 377th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Kirtland, said during his prepared remarks at the ceremony. “So important is this recognition, once accomplished it is etched as a permanent and lasting honor for as long as the base is active.”
Here's a brief description of the four individuals memorialized at Kirtland:
• Master Sgt. John Allen. He was drafted into the Army Air Forces out of high school and was assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332 Fighter Wing, who were the country's first Black military pilots. Allen served 27 years as a pilot and munitions technician. After his retirement, he worked at Kirtland in the Weapons Safety Office with the 377th Air Base Wing. After his retirement he often spoke publicly about the historic Tuskegee Airmen.
• Airman 2nd Class George Bevich Jr. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1963 and was assigned to the 377th Air Police Squadron at an air base in Vietnam with his working dog, Rex. On a night in December 1966, he spotted a force of Viet Cong soldiers attempting to enter the base. He sounded an alarm and started fighting the Viet Cong. Bevich died when his jeep was hit by a mortar, and he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He was the first dog handler to die in Vietnam.
• Senior Airman Jason Cunningham. A Farmington native, Cunningham served in the Navy before enlisting in the Air Force as a pararescueman, where he underwent a vigorous two-year training program before graduating from the Guardian Angel Pararescue Schoolhouse at Kirtland. He died March 4, 2002, during the Battle of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan. The helicopter carrying Cunningham and his Ranger team was struck and crashed on a mountainside. Cunningham stayed in the burning fuselage to treat the wounded, repeatedly moving them to safer locations under enemy fire. He ultimately suffered fatal wounds and continued to provide treatment and direct patient care as he was dying. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross. Cunningham was the first New Mexico native to die in the War on Terror.
• Staff Sgt. Anissa Shero. She enlisted in the Air Force in 1992 and trained as a loadmaster. She was trained in special operations at the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland. She became the first woman airman killed in the War on Terror when her aircraft crashed during a nighttime mission to pick up a Special Forces team. But the Air Force credited Shero with saving the lives of two soldiers.