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The Ranger chopper that was shot down while landing on the peak of Takur Ghar

Master Sergeant John A. Chapman
U.S. Air Force Combat Controller

The highest U.S. military award for valor, image composite of the U.S. Air Force Medal of Honor with drop shadow and transparency
U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman while on a mission in Afghanistan holding a young girl

USAF Combat Controller Master Sergeant John A. Chapman is the first airman to receive the

Medal of Honor for actions since the Vietnam War.

John Chapman's

Medal of Honor citation

Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as an Air Force Special Tactics combat controller, attached to a Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Team conducting reconnaissance operations in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002.

 

During insertion, the team's helicopter was ambushed causing a teammate to fall into an entrenched group of enemy combatants below. Sergeant Chapman and the team voluntarily reinserted onto the snow-capped mountain, into the heart of a known enemy stronghold to rescue one of their own.

 

Without regard for his own safety, Sergeant Chapman immediately engaged, moving in the direction of the closest enemy position despite coming under heavy fire from multiple directions. He fearlessly charged an enemy bunker, up a steep incline in thigh-deep snow and into hostile fire, directly engaging the enemy.

 

Upon reaching the bunker, Sergeant Chapman assaulted and cleared the position, killing all enemy occupants. With complete disregard for his own life, Sergeant Chapman deliberately moved from cover only 12 meters from the enemy and exposed himself once again to attack a second bunker, from which an emplaced machine gun was firing on his team.

 

During this assault from an exposed position directly in the line of intense fire, Sergeant Chapman was struck and injured by enemy fire. Despite severe, mortal wounds, he continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice.

 

By his heroic actions and extraordinary valor, sacrificing his life for the lives of his teammates, Technical Sergeant Chapman upheld the highest traditions of military service and reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman John A. Chapman in Air Force dress blues and scarlet red beret
Senior Airman John A Chapman photographed on a mission in Afghanistan

To honor his legacy and sacrifice, the Combat Control Foundation created the MSgt John A. Chapman 'Service Before Self' award.

John A. Chapman's Biography

John A. Chapman graduated from Windsor Locks High School, Windsor Locks, Connecticut, in 1983. He enlisted in the Air Force on Sept. 27, 1985, as an information systems operator and later volunteered to be a combat controller, tasked to solve air and ground problems across the spectrum of conflict and crisis.

From basic training, Chapman's first assignment as an information systems operator was at the 1987th Information Systems Squadron at Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado. He entered the combat controller training pipeline at Lackland AFB, Texas, in 1989. Immediately following a successful graduation from the CCT courses, he proceeded to his first Special Tactics assignment at the 1721st Combat Control Squadron, Pope AFB, North Carolina. Next, Chapman spent three years at the 320th Special Tactics Squadron in Okinawa, Japan. Later, as a top performer in his career field, he was selectively hired for a special duty assignment at the 24th Special Tactics Squadron. There, as a team leader, Chapman prepared personnel for their roles as Special Tactics operators on the battlefield, conducting precision strike, personnel recovery, and global access with special operations teams around the world.

Chapman was specially trained and equipped for immediate deployment into combat operations. Trained to infiltrate in combat and austere environments, he was an experienced static line and military free fall jumper, and combat diver. Additionally, he earned jumpmaster and dive supervisor qualifications. Chapman was an expert in reconnaissance operations, air traffic control and terminal attack control operations, where he decisively integrated airpower on to the battlefield. While deployed, he directed close air support aircraft, delivering destructive ordnance on enemy targets in non-permissive environments.

Chapman's awards and decorations include the Air Force Cross, Purple Heart, Air Force Commendation Medal with one device, Joint Service Achievement Medal with one device, Air Force Achievement Medal with one device, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with two devices, Air Force Good Conduct Medal with four devices, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award with three devices, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Military Education ribbon, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship ribbon, and the Air Force Training ribbon.

Chapman was a dedicated father and husband. He truly was a family man; even when he was away from home, his daughters were the center of his world, a common attribute of Special Tactics operators. John enjoyed hunting with his father and brother, working on project cars with friends, and was an avid woodworker.

Combat Controller Senior Airman John A. Chapman Red Beret CCT Flash

Medal of Honor Facts

  • John Chapman is the FIRST Airman to receive the Medal of Honor for actions conducted since the Vietnam War.

  • This marks the FIRST Medal of Honor to be awarded to a Special Tactics Airman.

  • Originally posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions in 2003.

  • There have been 60 Medals of Honor presented to U.S. Air Force members from World War I, World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War.

  • This is the 7th Medal of Honor to be awarded to an enlisted Airman since the inception of the U.S. Air Force.

US Air Force Medal of Honor.png

The First Medal of Honor
Ever Recorded

SUMMARY OF ACTION: BATTLE AT TAKUR GHAR

Sergeant Chapman enlisted in the Air Force on 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, Sergeant Chapman had a tendency to make the difficult look effortless, and consistently sought new challenges. Dating back to his high school days, he made the varsity soccer squad as a freshman. Also an avid muscle-car enthusiast, he rebuilt and maintained an old Pontiac GTO.

 

Combat control would prove to be another instance of “making it look easy.”

 

Combat control training is more than two years long and amongst the most rigorous in the U.S. military. Only about one in ten 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 – Sergeant Chapman is remembered as someone who could do anything put in front of him.

 

“One remembers two types of students – the sharp ones and the really dull ones – and Chapman was in the sharp category,” said Ron Childress, a former Combat Control School instructor. 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 Childress.

 

Following Combat Control School, Sergeant 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 Sergeant 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 Sergeant Chapman through Combat Control School, a three-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and at Pope Air Force Base. “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 Sergeant 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 Qaeda 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, Sergeant 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 Sergeant 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 Petty Officer Roberts and performed a controlled crash landing a few miles from the mountaintop. Thus began the chain of events that led to unparalleled acts of valor by numerous joint special operations forces, the deaths of seven U.S. servicemen and now, 16 years later, posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Chapman.

 

Alone, against the elements and separated from his team with enemy personnel closing in, Petty Officer 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 Petty Officer 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. Sergeant 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, Sergeant 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. Sergeant 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.

 

Sergeant 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, Sergeant Chapman is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.

The upgrade to MOH

“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 Col. 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.”

 

Sergeant Chapman was originally awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, following a review of Air Force Cross and Silver Star recipients directed by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the Secretary of the Air Force recommended Sergeant Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

 

In accordance with Air Force policy whereby Medal of Honor recipients are automatically promoted one grade on the first day of the month following the award, Sergeant Chapman will be posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant on Sept. 1, 2018.

 

Although Sergeant Chapman will be awarded the Medal of Honor, family and friends have expressed his humility and how he would react today, if he were here.

 

“If John were to find out he received the Medal of Honor, he would be very humbled and honored,” said Chief Master Sergeant West. “He was just doing his job, and that’s what he would say at this moment.”

 

His widow, Valerie Nessel, has always known her husband was capable of such greatness, but asserts that John wouldn’t be anxious to be in the spotlight.

 

“[John] would want to recognize the other men that lost their lives,” said Valerie. “Even though he did something he was awarded the Medal of Honor for, he would not want the other guys to be forgotten – that they were part of the team together.”

 

“I think he would say that his Medal of Honor was not just for him, but for all of the guys who were lost,” she added.

 

In total, seven service members lost their lives during the Battle of Takur Ghar:

 

Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts – U.S. Navy SEAL
Technical Sergeant John Chapman – U.S. Air Force combat control
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham – U.S. Air Force pararescue
Corporal Matthew Commons – U.S. Army Ranger
Sergeant Bradley Crose – U.S. Army Ranger
Specialist Marc Anderson – U.S. Army Ranger
Sergeant Philip Svitak – U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment

 

“John would have, so I’ll say it for him. Every American who set foot on that mountaintop acted with great courage and selflessness, and deserve all of our praise and admiration for the sacrifices they made,” said Col. Rodriguez.

SSM citation.jpg

Acts of
Valor

LR Bob Haverty, Dave Hughes,Bob Edmisten, Tom Watson, Dave Gfeller, Charlie McCarthy..jpeg

Combat Control
History

 Combat controllers saluting a fallen comrade

Remember our
Fallen Heroes

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