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Bronze Star recognizes Airman's service

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Col. Thomas Bell presented Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham with the Bronze Star Medal July 17, for meritorious achievements made on his recent deployment in Iraq. (US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Col. Thomas Bell presented Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham with the Bronze Star Medal July 17, for meritorious achievements made on his recent deployment in Iraq. (US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham and his family after receiving the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievements made during his recent deployment in Iraq. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham and his family after receiving the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievements made during his recent deployment in Iraq. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham's family and friends welcome him home after his recent deployment to Iraq which Col. Cunningham received the Bronze Star Medal for the meritorious achievements he made there. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fl. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham's family and friends welcome him home after his recent deployment to Iraq which Col. Cunningham received the Bronze Star Medal for the meritorious achievements he made there. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham, Aircraft Maintenance Advisor, HQ Iraqi Air Force, sits with family before being presented with the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievements made during his recent deployment. (US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham, Aircraft Maintenance Advisor, HQ Iraqi Air Force, sits with family before being presented with the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievements made during his recent deployment. (US Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- For an American Airman, doing the job requires honor, excellence and, "Above All," mission success. For one Airman, recognition for commendable work came shortly after returning home from deployment.

Lt. Col. Charles Cunningham, aircraft maintenance advisor, HQ Iraqi Air Force, received the Bronze Star Medal July 17, in recognition for his exceptionally meritorious achievement as a maintenance advisor for the Coalition Air Force Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, in Baghdad from July 12, 2007, to July 10, 2008, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"My personal description of Colonel Cunningham would be integrity, professionalism and a true patriot," said Lt. Col. Arcadio Alaniz, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 2 Operation Location, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Colonel Cunningham distinguished himself by demonstrating outstanding leadership in planning, coordinating and orchestrating Iraqi Air Force maintenance management of their growing fleet of United States and Russian-built rotary and fixed wing aircraft.

Colonel Cunningham devised a $15 million helicopter upgrade which added an integrated missile defense system and intercom capability for the Iraqi Mi-17s HIP. He then led a $50 million effort to fully equip Iraqi helicopters with kinetic capabilities vital to "outside the wire" flights and counterinsurgency operations.

The Bronze Star Medal is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service - doing one's combat job well over a period of time.

During his voluntary deployment from AFOTEC Detachment 2, Colonel Cunningham witnessed vast improvement in the stability of Iraq.

"When I first got there, our Iraqi counterparts traveled to work on Sunday and remained there until Thursday. That was because it was hazardous for them to make a daily trip to and from work," said Colonel Cunningham. "By the time I left, the Iraqis felt safe enough to make a two and a half hour commute to and from work. That not only speaks volumes for their belief in what we were trying to accomplish there is the right thing to do, it also shows the improvement that has been made in that region."

Colonel Cunningham produced a technical solution which satisfied the Iraqis' immediate operational requirements and put the building blocks in place for future precision. He also broke the logjam afflicting Iraqi aircraft maintenance by supporting the stand up of a Foreign Military Sales department in the Iraqi Air Force Logistics Directorate.

"Colonel Cunningham exemplifies exactly what an Airman in this expeditionary Air Force should be," said Colonel Cunningham's father Lt. Gen. (ret.) Charles Cunningham Jr., former 12th Air Force Commander.

"One thing I have learned in my career is that the rewards for serving can never be overstated," said Gen. Cunningham.

Col. Cunningham's father left large shoes to fill, but he never pressured his son into any of his choices. Instead he encouraged him to follow his own path in life.

"My father has never told me how to pursue my career," said the Col. "I have gotten nothing less than 100 percent support."

Upon receiving his medal, the colonel redirected the praise, giving it to the people he worked with.

"By no means was this a single-man effort," said Colonel Cunningham. "What was unique about this assignment is that we as a team couldn't function without our Iraqi counterparts."