The Heart of a Dirt Boy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Marcus M. Bullock
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The nurse walks in and begins carefully unhooking the infusion treatments so as not to disrupt the patient. His stage four cancer that started in his esophagus, has now spread to his stomach, liver, kidney and lungs, ravaging his body.

He pays no mind to the cords attached to him as the roar of a jet sounds off overhead. There is work to be done, so he has these treatments in his office. Papers line his desk like organized chaos because there is so much to do.

His colleagues press on with work, breaking the monotonous beeps from the machine with their own distracting chatter. His hospital room is his office, his hospital bed is his desk and chair, and his hospital gown is a U.S. Air Force uniform.

This is how Carrie Kelley describes some of the last days of her husband, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Kelley, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron NCO in charge of pavements and equipment.

During Jason’s 19-year career, he became a part of a brotherhood known across the Air Force as the “Dirt Boyz.” Jason knew the Dirt Boyz lived by a creed. Master Sgt. Bryan Rosburg, 633rd CES safety and vehicle maintenance section chief, would agree that Jason embodied the Dirt Boyz creed throughout his entire career.

A quality of mind

Jason was a man that knew his responsibility to his wife Carrie, his daughters Annabelle, Madelyn, and Emily, and the Dirt Boyz. He knew what needed to be done and knew the price he had to pay to be able to accomplish his mission, said Rosburg.

“We develop a quick motivating awareness of responsibility to our fellow Dirt Boyz and the mission we strive to complete,” said Rosburg. “This was evident when TSgt Kelley deployed on several occasions in support of Operator Iraqi Freedom and Operator Enduring Freedom and spent countless months away from his family.”

How long one has to live isn’t always a choice. Jason chose to live by the Dirt Boyz creed, which meant having a quality of mind to accomplish the tasks given and focus on the mission at hand.

“He refused to let anyone that he worked with down. Jason looked out for everyone. His team and their camaraderie were a priority in his life,” said Carrie. “He was 100 percent committed to finishing his time with the Air Force and being there to continue the mission at the Dirt Boyz shop.”

A mental resolve

Jason wasn’t ready to give up when he learned of his diagnosis. Failure is not an option for him, said Carrie.

“When you get news like that, it’s so surreal and we were both dedicated to doing anything and everything to try to fix it, even though we were told that it just wasn’t possible,” said Carrie.

When a person’s body is breaking down, the disease is making it hard to eat, and they feel like their chest is on fire, it may seem easy to give up and throw in the towel. They know they should be resting, but also they just can’t rest until the mission is complete.

“I’ll give a great example of this and that’s someone that has stage four cancer, who comes to work during severe weather conditions,” said Rosburg. “Tech. Sgt. Kelley expected that the work would be taxing in the blistering cold and would hurt his body even more, but despite that, he came in to direct snow removal operations for Joint Base Langley-Eustis. He did all of this knowing that he should be in bed taking care of himself.”

Keep going on

Through the treatments and the pain that this disease was causing Jason’s body, he still managed to get up, put on his uniform and go to work. Not only persevering for his wife and daughters at home, but for the Dirt Boyz on the job.

His ‘kick ass and never say no’ attitude is what represents a true Dirt Boy warrior,” said Rosburg. “He gave 100 percent to everything he did and quitting was never an option. He displayed every one of these traits, and that is rare these days.”

Friends and family say Jason was a man who battled cancer for two years but never gave up, still finding the strength to make time for his wife, daughters, and brothers in the Dirt Boyz.

“About a year after his diagnosis, we realized that it was time to speed the memory-making process up a notch,” said Carrie. “We took the opportunity to check some items off of our family ‘bucket list’ and bought a camper to visit the mountains last summer and went to Disney World in the fall.”

A true Dirt Boy warrior

Jason passed away January 16, 2019, after his two-year fight with stage four esophageal cancer.

“He wasn’t ready to quit, even though his body was. He was proud and dedicated and fought this battle right up until the end,” said Carrie. “In my opinion, my husband was the true definition of an American Airman.”

His funeral service was full of members of his unit, friends and family; everyone grieving, yet celebrating his life and the impact he had on them.

“He was a Dirt Boy that loved his guys, and his guys loved him,” said Rosburg. “The Dirt Boyz fraternity will long remember our brother Jason, as a leader, mentor, one hell of an operator, but most importantly, our friend. Carrie, Annabelle, Madelyn, and Emily, your family has and always will be a part of the Dirt Boy family and nothing will ever change that.”

During the memorial service, Rosburg positions himself in front of the casket, draped with the U.S. flag. Composed, he lets out “Dirt Boyz Roll Call,” which echoes throughout the church.

One by one, members of the Dirt Boyz stand after hearing their name called by Rosburg, until the last name on the list is reached.


“Jason Kelley.”

“Technical Sergeant Jason Kelley.”

Rosburg pauses for a minute before being joined by the friends and family of Jason Kelley. Together, they hoist Jason’s casket and give him one final send off.