(Voice Over: Dan Schilling (author of Alone At Dawn, available at https://www.danschillingbooks.com; video by Sputnik Productions)
The brave actions of a US Air Force Combat Controller in Afghanistan saved countless lives at the cost of his own- and it posthumously earned him the Medal of Honor.
Born in 1965, John A. Chapman grew up in Connecticut, where he lived a rather typical life for an American kid and graduated high school in 1983.
Two years after graduation, Chapman enlisted in the USAF, training as an Information Systems Operator until he eventually crossed over to the Combat Control role in the early 1990s.
Between 1990 and 2001, Chapman would marry and go on several different assignments with the US Air Force, taking him all around the world.
When the War in Afghanistan kicked off, Chapman found himself working alongside Navy SEALs in a now-infamous mission known as Operation Anaconda, a campaign that would humble American Special Operations troops and force them to re-evaluate their tactics.
In the early hours of March 4, a US Army MH-47 Chinook helicopter of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR) was ferrying SEALs to the peak of Takur Ghar, located in the Shahi-Kot Valley. During an attempt to land on the peak, two Taliban Rocket-Propelled Grenades hit the helicopter, causing severe damage and throwing SEAL Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts to fall from the ramp. While attempts were made to go after Roberts, the helicopter could not stay airborne and was forced to crash land 4 miles away.
A second helicopter -carrying a team of US Navy SEALs and then-Technical Sergeant Chapman- was sent to the peak in an effort to find Roberts, coming under immediate fire as the operators set foot atop the ridge.
As this was happening, a CIA drone watched from above, recording the operators’ actions.
Mere moments after scurrying out of the MH-47, the team took heavy fire from all sides, forcing the SEALs to huddle together and sending Chapman off in another direction.
All alone, Chapman fired his weapon at enemy muzzle flashes, pushing his way up the slope where a series of fortifications were located.
Following Chapman’s footprints in the snow, the SEAL team leader, Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski, located Chapman, who continued his push towards the fortified bunker and the body of P01 Roberts. Slabinski attempted to keep up with Chapman, but never managed to close distance.
All alone in the cold, snowy terrain, Chapman made his choice- he would charge the bunker, take it out, and help recover Roberts at any cost.
In mere seconds, Chapman killed the two Taliban fighters inside of the bunker at point-blank range, pushing inward and holding until Slabinski could catch up.
Now linked up, Chapman and Slabinski engaged the second bunker, which had considerably more troops and heavier weapons inside. During the assault, Chapman is hit twice and fell to the ground.
Attempting to suppress the bunker, a SEAL with an M60 laid down heavy fire until he was hit by shrapnel, causing him to fall at Slabinski’s feet. In the confusion that often comes with the fog of war, the SEALs pulled back, leaving Chapman behind.
As the operators departed, an AC-130 gunship was called in to help the SEALs escape. 105mm rounds rained from the sky, exploding all around Chapman.
Not long after, Chapman came to and began fighting the Taliban once again, despite being mortally wounded and suffering from both shock and blood loss.
In the cold darkness that began fading as the sun rose, Chapman once again began a one-man assault against the enemy, using every last ounce of strength left in his failing body. He would make a series of radio calls, which were heard by a US Air Force commando some distance away.
“This is Mako Three Zero Charlie…. This is Mako Three Zero Charlie,” Chapman repeated over and over.
The commando, assigned to an Army Delta Force unit on another summit, recognized the voice and callsign and attempted to establish communication with Chapman, but he could not be reached.
Eventually, the radio fell silent.
Seated beneath a tree, Chapman had been fighting alone for nearly an hour, all while a CIA drone documented his heroism. Now low on ammunition, he watched as enemy troops tried to charge at him from below, engaging at least one in hand-to-hand combat.
Hearing a friendly helicopter approaching, Chapman used the last of his strength to take on the remaining fighters, in hopes that he could prevent another shoot-down.
Firing in all directions with rapid efficiency, Chapman made the decision that the summit would be where he would draw his last breath and charged the enemy atop his own personal Afghan Alamo.
As the helicopter landed, it was fatally struck by an RPG and several Rangers on board were hit as they exited onto the peak. As the Rangers scrambled to cover, Chapman began fighting the remaining fighters in close combat,
Now almost completely out of ammo and suffering from 16 bullet and shrapnel wounds, Chapman’s rampage ended after he was shot through the heart, killing him.
In the short -yet agonizingly long- time he spent on the peak, Chapman would qualify for two Medals of Honor. Despite being abandoned by the SEALs, he would fight on until the very end. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.
Fourteen years after his death, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James would push for Chapman to receive the Medal of Honor. Shortly after, Naval Special Warfare Command allegedly attempted to block the recommendation, as it would effectively show the world that the SEALs left the Airman behind.
Unable to block the Medal of Honor, the Navy put Senior Chief Slabinski up for a Medal of Honor as well. The Senior Chief would be awarded his MOH in May of 2018.
In August of 2018, John A. Chapman received the Medal of Honor, making him the first Airman to receive one since the Vietnam War. Shortly after, he was posthumously promoted to Master Sergeant and inducted into the Hall of Heroes
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