HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- The White House announced July 27 that Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor Aug. 22 for his extraordinary heroism during the Battle of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, in March 2002.
According to the Medal of Honor nomination, Chapman distinguished himself on the battlefield through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” sacrificing his life to preserve those of his teammates.
Chapman enlisted in the Air Force Sept. 27, 1985 as an information systems operator but felt called to be part of Air Force special operations. In 1989, he cross-trained to become an Air Force combat controller.
According to friends and Family, Chapman had a tendency to make the difficult look effortless and consistently sought new challenges.
Combat control training is more than two years long and amongst the most rigorous in the U.S. military. Only about one in 10 Airmen who start the program graduate.
From months of rigorous physical fitness training to multiple joint schools – including military SCUBA, Army static-line and freefall, air traffic control, and combat control schools – Chapman is remembered as someone who could do anything put in front of him.
Combat Control School is one of the most difficult points of a combat controller’s training program, from completing arduous tasks without sleeping for days, to running miles with weighted rucksacks and a gas mask.
“During one of his first days at Combat Control School, I noticed a slight smirk on his face like the training was too simple for him and it was,” said Ron Childress, a former Combat Control School instructor.
Following Combat Control School, Chapman served with the 1721st Combat Control Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he met his wife, Valerie, in 1992. They had two daughters, who were the center of Chapman’s world even when he was away from home – which was common in the combat control career field.
“He would come home from a long trip and immediately have on his father hat – feeding, bathing, reading and getting his girls ready for bed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael West, who served with Chapman through Combat Control School, a three-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and at Pope AFB. “They were his life and he was proud of them to the Air Force he was a great hero what I saw was a great father.”
The Battle of Takur Ghar
In conjunction with Operation Anaconda in March 2002, small reconnaissance teams were tasked to establish observation posts in strategic locations in Afghanistan, and when able, direct U.S. air power to destroy enemy targets. The mountain of Takur Ghar was an ideal spot for such an observation post, with excellent visibility to key locations.
For Chapman and his joint special operations teammates, the mission on the night of March 3 was to establish a reconnaissance position on Takur Ghar and report al-Qaida movement in the Sahi-Kowt area.
“This was very high profile, no-fail job, and we picked John,” said retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time. “In a very high-caliber career field, with the highest quality of men – even then – John stood out as our guy.”
During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop on March 4, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team was ambushed. A rocket propelled grenade struck the helicopter and bullets ripped through the fuselage. The blast ripped through the left side of the Chinook, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts off the ramp of the helicopter onto the enemy-infested mountaintop below.
The severely damaged aircraft was unable to return for Roberts and performed a controlled crash landing a few miles from the mountaintop.
Alone, against the elements and separated from his team with enemy personnel closing in, Roberts was in desperate need of support. The remaining joint special operations team members, fully aware of his precarious situation, immediately began planning a daring rescue attempt that included returning to the top of Takur Ghar where they had just taken heavy enemy fire.
As the team returned to Roberts’ last-known position, now on a second MH-47, the entrenched enemy forces immediately engaged the approaching helicopter with heavy fire.
Miraculously, the helicopter, although heavily damaged, was able to successfully offload the remaining special operations team members and return to base. Chapman, upon exiting the helicopter, immediately charged uphill through the snow toward enemy positions while under heavy fire from three directions.
Once on the ground, the team assessed the situation and moved quickly to the high ground. The most prominent cover and concealment on the hilltop were a large rock and tree. As they approached the tree, Chapman received fire from two enemy personnel in a fortified position. He returned fire, charged the enemy position and took out the enemy combatants within.
Almost immediately, the team began taking machine gun fire from another fortified enemy position only 12 meters away. Chapman deliberately moved into the open to engage the new enemy position. As he heroically engaged the enemy, he was struck by a burst of gunfire and became critically injured.
Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly despite his severe wounds. He sustained a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters, for over an hour through the arrival of the quick reaction force, before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, Chapman is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.
“John was always selfless – it didn’t just emerge on Takur Ghar – he had always been selfless and highly competent, and thank God for all those qualities,” said Rodriguez. “He could have hunkered down in the bunker and waited for the (Quick Reaction Force) and (Combat Search and Rescue) team to come in, but he assessed the situation and selflessly gave his life for them.”
Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, the secretary of the Air Force recommended Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
In accordance with Air Force policy, Chapman will be posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant on Sept. 1, 2018.