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How cycling helped me deal with the loss of my hero, my son Jon.

By Ted Dunbar

I could not be more proud of the man that my son Jon became. He was shy, humble, and kind and was a loving son, husband, and father, but was also a fierce warrior that hated attention. 

I remember one time when Jon, his son Jonathan, my brother Jer, and I were camping and hiking at the Grand Canyon. We had completed a long hike and were riding the shuttle bus back to our campsite. I saw these teenagers looking at Jon and his backpack, one of them asked Jon if he was really an Army Ranger and I could see by the look on Jon's face that he wasn't expecting that question. He answered yes and then noticed that he had inadvertently left a Ranger tab attached to his backpack, a second later that tab was no longer there!

Jon was born to be a soldier. I have heard numerous stories from his school friends of Jon stepping up to protect people when he was young. Jon was one of only two out of 200+ that went all the way through Ranger school without having to repeat a phase. When his LRS unit came back from Afghanistan, his fellow soldiers came up to me and said "Mr. Dunbar, your son saved our lives". Jon later pulled a Bronze Star out of his pocket and said "hey Dad, I got this", my jaw dropped, he put it back in his pocket and never mentioned it again. 

Jon’s military awards and decorations include four Bronze Star medals, four Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals, five Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, the Iraq Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Service Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral 3, the Army Service Ribbon, two Overseas Service Ribbons, the NATO Medal, the Ranger Tab, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Pathfinder Badge, the Military Freefall Jumpmaster Badge and the Parachutist Badge and a Meritorious Service Award. Jon ultimately wound up as part of the finest fighting force in the world Delta Force.

I have been a cyclist for the majority of my life with a brief and largely unsuccessful hiatus at chasing girls. Unlike the girls, the bike never rejected me so it has been a lasting relationship. I grew up in International Falls Minnesota and consequently had a very short riding season but made the most of it none the less. My bicycle was my exploration device -where does this road go, I wonder if I can climb that hill? 

As a teenager I asked one of the girls in school if she wanted to ride bikes with me to the beach. She said yes so we jumped on our 20" wheeled banana seat bikes and rode the 3 miles or so to the beach. After a short swim I asked her if she wanted to ride a little further, maybe up to Sha Sha... she asked how far that was and I said not that far. As it turned out I had underestimated not only how far it was but also how difficult as there were several large hills to get up to get there! To her credit she made it all the way to Sha Sha where we had a coke and a candy bar and then she called her parents to come and get her... I was still single! 

Yes, I was this oddball that enjoyed challenging himself by seeing how far he could ride his bicycle. I eventually bought a lightweight racing bike with Campagnolo components and loved my solo riding sessions and working through life's problems, it was my rolling therapy session.

In 1984 my employer Boise Cascade Corporation had a massive layoff and I lost my job. Being the major employer in the area I could see the writing on the wall, a change of scenery was going to be necessary. Kathy and I had just returned from visiting my brother Jerry and his wife Susan in Austin Texas and we had really liked it there, even talked about some day moving there. So 1985 saw us living and working in Austin Texas, we soon grew to love the place. During my bicycle exploration sessions there I soon saw that there were others in Austin that shared my passion, Austin was a cycling town. I soon joined a local race team and began learning the art of racing bikes and doing group rides, this of course necessitated the purchase of a new race bike... or two. 

In 1992 after seeing that there wasn't a group ride in North Austin, I started a ride that was open to all road riders. Every Saturday, our little group would head out into the Texas hill country and ride more and more miles. Soon our group got bigger and we were riding 80 miles or more and loving it. The ride eventually became known as the Bagel Ride, I led the ride for 23 years and I am proud to say that the ride is still happening today.

In 2016 my wife and I retired and moved to St. George, a move we have never regretted. Jon and family visited us a couple of times in St. George and after hiking at Zion, Snow Canyon, and other local hikes, and skiing at Brian Head he said "Dad, I think you may have found paradise here".

When Jon made Delta Force our entire family was extremely proud, we all walked with our heads a little higher. We knew that what he was doing was extremely dangerous but were comforted by the fact that he was with the finest soldiers in the world and was receiving the very best training. 

When Jon was fairly new to Delta Force, he was asked to take part in a mission in Iraq to rescue Kurdish soldiers that were about to be executed by ISIS, intel showed the mass grave was already being dug so they had to act quickly. Jon's unit and Kurdish soldiers joined forces and used explosive charges to gain entry to the ISIS compound, team leader Josh Wheeler was the first one through and was killed by enemy forces. The rest of the team made it into the compound and ultimately rescued 75 Kurdish hostages that night. 

Thomas Patrick Payne won the Medal of Honor for his heroism that night, Pat invited me to the White House for the MOH ceremony as Jon's representative. I found out on that trip about Jon's role in that mission from other teammates that were involved. Apparently, Jon was on the squad automatic weapon (SAW) and noticed that ISIS fighters were approaching their position by using sheep as cover, Jon eliminated the threat, as well as some sheep apparently, but saved lives in the process. Jon was awarded a Bronze star for this, and his teammate Jim told me that Jon definitely saved his life that night as he never saw the ISIS fighters.

There were many other missions that Jon took part in that we never knew about, the only reason I can talk now about his being part of Delta Force is because the White House released that information when he was killed.

It was the middle of the night in March 2018 that we received the phone call that would forever change our lives, Jon had been killed.

An explosive had killed Jon and British SAS soldier Matt Tonroe in Syria, several other team members were injured. Our lives had been turned upside down, we had lost our hero. 

We were flown out to Dover a few days later for the dignified transfer where General Milley shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said "you must remain strong for your family". I have tried to do just that, not always successfully. 

We then flew to Fort Bragg for the Army military service in honor of Jon. I will never forget our family being seated last and looking at the assembled crowd, the doors to the chapel were propped open and they had placed chairs outside to seat all the people that came to honor Jon, it was extremely moving.

We then had the Delta Force service on the compound when Jon's unit got back from deployment where Jon's name was engraved on the honor wall. Then of course we had the Arlington memorial service where Jon was finally laid to rest, we had a lot of family and friends in attendance for support which meant a lot to us. Our previous home town of Austin Texas has also been very supportive naming a section of the highway near our home a memorial parkway in Jon's honor. 

During and after all this, our casualty assistance officer would call and check on us, I was usually out riding my bike. He would call and say "how are you doing today Mr. Dunbar"? And I would answer "good, I am out for a rolling therapy session ". He would always tell me that there were professionals that I could talk to and that there was a lot of assistance options available. And I said thanks, but I am going to deal with this my way, the same way I have dealt with difficulty all my life- by riding my bike and thinking it through.

I hope that riding your bike does something similar for you, helps you get through the difficult times in life that we all have to endure. 

Jon was literally the finest human being that I have ever known, and I am so proud to call him my son. I will miss him forever,  but I know that he would want all of us to remain strong so that is what I am trying to do.

Jon was an avid hockey player and they hold an annual hockey game in his honor called the Jon Dunbar Winter Classic. We got to attend the game last year which was A squadron versus C squadron, it was a great game and event with lots of activities for the kids as well. 

After the game a young man walked up to Kathy and I and said "Hi I'm Tom, Jon was my cadre officer at Delta selection, he was very professional and intimidating. Jon was a big guy and I was unsure of my abilities, Jon helped guide me through the process. After making Delta Force and joining the unit it is a lot like high school, you don't know anyone, very intimidating. At lunch I was sitting by myself and Jon came over and sat down across from me and held out his hand and said Hi I'm Jon, welcome to the unit". 

Tom said he tries to emulate that in his own career and be like Jon.

written by ted dunbar