Jake Gyllenhaal set to portray Master Sgt. John Chapman, Air Force Medal of Honor recipient in new movie

Jake Gyllenhaal will star in a movie about Air Force Master Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller with Air Force Special Operations Command who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018. (Wikimedia)

Jim Thompson

Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

A movie on Air Force Master Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller with the Hurlburt Field-headquartered Air Force Special Operations Command who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018, is in development.

Jake Gyllenhaal will star in a movie about Air Force Master Sgt. John Chapman, a combat controller with Air Force Special Operations Command who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2018. (Wikimedia)

Well-known actor Jake Gyllenhaal, whose credits include “Brokeback Mountain,” “October Sky,” “Donnie Darko” and “Jarhead,” is set to play Chapman in the movie, currently titled “Combat Control.”

Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in a March 4, 2002, battle with al-Qaida insurgents on Takur Ghar, a mountaintop in Afghanistan.

Air Force combat controllers like Chapman, one-man attachments to special operations teams, handle an array of complex responsibilities in hostile environments, from directing air power in contested areas to counter-terrorism work to reconnaissance to direct action. They also are trained in special forces skills including scuba and parachuting.

At Takur Ghar, Chapman was part of a joint special operations team whose helicopter was struck by enemy fire, throwing Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts from the aircraft. The helicopter crashed a couple miles away, but Chapman and Roberts’ other teammates soon returned in a second helicopter to rescue Roberts and resume the fight.

Chapman initially was awarded the Air Force Cross, but a review of Air Force Cross recipients ordered in 2016 by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter resulted in a decision to award Chapman the Medal of Honor. That review included looking at various video feeds from the battle showing Chapman, initially thought to have died earlier in the incident, fighting alone until he was mortally wounded while securing the area for newly arriving troops.

With the posthumous award, Chapman became the first airman since the Vietnam War to be presented the Medal of Honor, and the first Special Tactics airman ever to receive the nation’s highest military honor.

In presenting Chapman’s Medal of Honor to Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, and the Chapman family, President Donald Trump called him “a great warrior” and a “hero our nation will forever remember.”

“It’s just an amazing honor,” Nessel said at a news conference the day before the Medal of Honor presentation. “It’s been a long road coming, but it doesn’t change anything as far as the pride. We’ve always been proud of John.”

Nessel also said at the time that her late husband “would be a little embarrassed to be having this bestowed upon him.”

“I know John would be extremely humbled,” she also said, adding that for him, the medal “would be for all of the men who were lost on that mountain.”

In cinematic parlance, “in development” covers the preliminary creation, writing and other planning of a film project, including budgeting, casting, location decisions and scriptwriting. Being in development can be a lengthy process, and there is no ironclad guarantee that the film will be made. The ongoing coronavirus also could be complicating production decisions connected to “Combat Control.”

According to reports in military and movie industry media, and from other knowledgeable sources, the current status of “Combat Control” is that MGM Studios is in talks to acquire the project. In addition to being on board to play Chapman, Gyllenhaal also is set to serve as the film’s executive producer. In that role, he could be involved in everything from arranging funding to scripting to supervisory work both on and off the set.

At present, “Combat Control” is set to be directed by Sam Hargrave, who made his directorial debut last year with the action thriller film “Extraction,” about former military personnel rescuing an Indian drug lord’s kidnapped son.

A script for “Combat Control” has been adapted from the New York Times bestseller “Alone at Dawn,” by former Air Force combat controller Dan Schilling and Chapman’s sister, Lori Chapman Longfritz.

Schilling is serving as a military consultant on the movie. In a 2019 interview with the Daily News, he called Air Force combat controllers “the deadliest warriors to walk the battlefield in all of human history.”

The screenplay writer for “Combat Control” is Michael Russell Gunn, whose previous credits include writing for HBO’s “The Newsroom” and Showtime’s “Billions.”

In addition to telling Chapman’s story, “Combat Control” focuses on the investigation into his actions on Takur Ghar by Air Force Capt. Cora Alexander, who was tasked with determining whether Chapman should be awarded the Medal of Honor.

“Many knew his actions were worthy of the Congressional Medal of Honor,” Nessel said during a 2018 ceremony in which Chapman’s name, then newly engraved on the Special Tactics Memorial at Hurlburt Field, was unveiled. “With the help of technology and the endless work of dedicated individuals … John’s actions have been validated.”

Chapman and his memory are honored in a number of other places at Hurlburt Field. His portrait hangs in the Hall of Heroes in the AFSOC headquarters building and the 24th Special Operations Wing is now housed in the John A. Chapman Building.

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