Fallen Airman Earning MoH Was Top Performer, Tenacious Fighter

By Katie Lange, Department of Defense

This blog is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we’ll highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor. 

Usually on Medal of Honor Monday, we highlight the actions of someone who has already earned the honor. Today, we’re focusing on a man who will posthumously be awarded the medal this week, more than 16 years after he sacrificed his life for his comrades in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman grew up in Connecticut and joined the Air Force in September 1985. He was an information systems operator and later volunteered to be a special tactics combat controller.

An Expert in His Field 

Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, shown at the rank of Senior Airman. Air Force photo

In case you don’t know, combat controllers spend more than two years in one of the most rigorous training programs in the U.S. military. Only about one in 10 airmen who start it actually graduate.

Chapman was considered a top performer in his field. He was an experienced static line and freefall jumper, as well as a combat diver. He was an expert in reconnaissance operations, air traffic control and terminal attack control operations, which integrates airpower onto the battlefield.

He was also a dedicated husband and father to two girls.

Chapman was part of a joint special operations reconnaissance team in Afghanistan in 2002 taking part in Operation Anaconda, which worked to establish observation posts in strategic locations.

Heroics

On March 4, the team was trying to land on top of Takur Ghar Mountain to set up an observation post they could use to report al Qaida movement in the area. But as they tried to land, they were overwhelmed by gunfire from the enemy on the ground. Their Chinook helicopter was heavily damaged, and the assault threw Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to the ground below.

The chopper managed to crash-land a few miles away, but all on board were determined to get back to the enemy-infested mountaintop to rescue Roberts. So, they boarded another Chinook and headed back to the top of the mountain.

The aircraft was again swarmed by enemy fire from all directions, but this time, it successfully dropped off all of the men on the team. Chapman immediately charged up a hill through thigh-deep snow to assault an enemy bunker, killing the insurgents inside and taking it over.

He could have been safe there, but he didn’t stay. Chapman ran to another enemy bunker that was firing a machine gun at his teammates. He was seriously wounded while doing so but he continued to fight for about an hour until he was overcome by enemy fighters. He lost his life, but he was credited with saving many of his teammates.

A Well-Deserved Honor

“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow soldiers and sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American airmen.”

Fallen Air Force Combat Controller Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman poses with a child during deployment. Courtesy photo

Chapman was given the Air Force Cross for his actions; however, after a review by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the secretary of the Air Force recommended that Chapman’s award be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Chapman will be the 19th airman awarded the nation’s highest military honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947. He’ll also be the first airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War.

As is Air Force tradition, Chapman will be promoted to the rank of master sergeant.

Six other U.S. service members died during the Battle of Takur Ghar. They included Roberts, who fell out of the initial helicopter, Air Force Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Army Cpl. Matthew Commons, Army Sgt. Bradley Crose, Army Spc. Marc Anderson and Army Sgt. Philip Svitak.

“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 deserves all of our praise and admiration for the sacrifices they made,” said retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, Chapman’s commander at the time.

Thanks to all of these men for their courage and sacrifice.

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