On March 4, 2002, during an intense battle at a place called Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan, Air Force combat controller, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman used all of his skills to bring in close air support and rescue helicopters and in doing so helped to save his entire Navy SEAL team.
Sadly, he also gave his life in the effort.
He became the first Air Force combat controller in history to be awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions that very day. Because of recently enhanced Predator videos of the battle, it has been recommended that Chapman’s Air Force Cross be upgraded to the Medal of Honor. But, as is often so in war, there is more to the story. It includes both the realities of the “fog of war” and uncommon courage in the face of overwhelming odds.
These events took place early on in the war in Afghanistan. We were there to take out the al Qaeda forces and training camps that had been established in Afghanistan. It was these al Qaeda camps that had been behind the 9/11 attacks on our own soil.
On that day in 2002, Chapman and the Navy SEAL team were going to be helicopter inserted into the area to do reconnaissance. When they were about to be inserted their helicopter came under heavy machine gun fire and also took a direct hit from a rocket propelled grenade. When that happened, one of the Navy SEAL team was knocked out of the helicopter.
The helicopter had to withdraw from the area under withering fire and made an emergency landing some 7 kilometers away from where their team member fell from the helicopter. Chapman immediately took control of the situation calling in an AC-130 gunship for close air support for the helicopter and its crew and the Navy SEAL team. He also called in a rescue helicopter that would extract the stranded SEAL team and the helicopter aircrew members from the enemy stronghold. He also directed the AC-130 to search for the missing team member.
According to the original Air Force Cross citation: “Without regard for his own life, Sergeant Chapman volunteered to rescue his missing team member from an enemy stronghold.”
In the fight that ensued, Chapman killed two enemy fighters and continued his advance on the enemy position. He came up against a dug-in machine gun nest and engaged it. At that point the rescue team came under heavy fire from three directions.
Chapman himself exchanged fire with al Qaeda fighters at close range with little cover, “until he succumbed to multiple wounds” according to the original citation.
The Navy SEAL team leader said of Chapman in the original citation, that he had, “unequivocally saved the lives of the entire rescue team. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, and the dedication to the service of his country, Sergeant Chapman reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
The battle was so intense, the SEAL team had to withdraw under overwhelming and withering fire. Chapman was thought to be dead, and his body was recovered after the battle was over.
However. autopsy information implied that he had not died when the rest of the team saw him fall from multiple wounds. It was found that the bullets that killed him came from angles that could not have been possible if he was lying on the ground. He also had bruises on his forehead that could not have happened post mortem.
The evidence seems to show that Chapman regained consciousness and continued the fight.
See drone footage of the battle below.
The newly enhanced Predator video also shows evidence that he was not dead when the SEAL team was forced to withdraw. It is believed that after he regained consciousness, he withdrew to a nearby bunker, shot and killed an enemy fighter that was charging him and engaged another in hand-to-hand combat, which may point to the bruising on his forehead.
All of this new evidence has prompted the Air Force Secretary, Deborah Lee James, to recommend an upgrade of Chapman’s Air Force Cross to the Medal of Honor.
Republican Congressman, Duncan Hunter, has also sent a letter recommending the upgrade saying, “Sergeant Chapman is an American hero who demonstrated courage and selflessness against extraordinary odds and certain death.”
If and when this upgrade is approved, Tech. Sgt. Combat Controller, John Chapman will be the first Air Force combat controller to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. We hope it will be approved soon.
The Veterans Site wishes to offer its sincerest condolences to the family of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman. We are moved by his courage and commitment to his fellow team members. We honor his memory and promise to never forget his sacrifice.
May he rest in peace.
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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.