Uncommon Men: Technical Sergeant John A Chapman

February 21, 2024
Uncommon Men: Technical Sergeant John A Chapman
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Sergeant John A Chapman
In the predawn darkness of March 4th, 2002, Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman prepared for yet another dangerous mission into the unforgiving mountains of Afghanistan. As an Air Force Combat Controller embedded with an elite Navy SEAL reconnaissance unit, Chapman was accustomed to peril. Yet no amount of training and experience could fully prepare him for the extraordinary test he would soon face on an isolated, enemy-held mountaintop called Takur Ghar.

What transpired that fateful morning would become one of the most intense small unit engagements of the war, resulting in the tragic loss of 7 American lives. It would also reveal the incredible courage, tenacity and selflessness of an Airman who gave everything to save his fellow warriors.

The Battle of Roberts Ridge, as it came to be called, began when Chapman’s CH-47 Chinook helicopter came under intense enemy fire during insertion. A sailor was ejected in the chaos and the damaged aircraft was forced to retreat, stranding Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts on the ground alone. Volunteering hastily to return and rescue their stranded teammate, Chapman and the SEALs met heavy resistance immediately upon insertion. After taking casualties, their position was about to be overrun when Chapman single-handedly assaulted and neutralized an enemy bunker threatening the team. The momentum shifted temporarily, but the fight was far from over.

What happened next could only be described as superhuman. With little regard for his own survival, Chapman left cover again and again to engage fortified enemy positions, saving countless lives at the cost of critical injuries to himself. Reports indicate he may have been presumed dead on multiple occasions, yet somehow found the strength to resume fighting each time. He advanced uphill alone against withering machine gun fire more than a dozen times to rescue a grounded helicopter pilot. The unimaginable trauma eventually proved fatal, but thanks to his distraction the pilot survived. All told, John Chapman absorbed and delivered enough damage for an entire platoon before succumbing to his wounds. His courage, grit and refusal to quit despite all odds enabled the survival and exfiltration of nearly his entire team.

In the aftermath, John Chapman was awarded the Air Force Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. But as details emerged regarding the extent of his actions, his peers knew the initial award fell short of true recognition. It would take 16 years of relentless advocacy from fellow veterans, Senators and Secretaries of the Air Force before eyewitness testimony confirming Chapman’s incredible valor was fully verified. Finally in 2018 he received a posthumous upgrade to the Medal of Honor, America’s highest award for battlefield bravery.

So what drove this man to achieve such superhuman feats? How did he summon the will to fight on despite mortal wounds that should have paralyzed the strongest combat veteran? Those privileged enough to have known John in life describe him as cool, competent and always up for a challenge. A high school soccer star who rebuilt muscle cars for fun, he made the difficult look easy. After breezing through Air Force Combat Control training, described as among the military’s toughest schools, John served with quiet professionalism for years before that fateful deployment. At home he was a dedicated husband and doting father who lived for his girls. There seemed nothing he could not handle in stride.

Yet beneath this calm exterior burned an intense flame of selflessness and duty. Since the earliest days of his enlistment John sought roles of greatest responsibility. He volunteered for Special Tactics because he felt called to be part of the fight. Though he certainly had much to live for, he never hesitated to lay his life on the line so others could come home. Those present at Roberts Ridge testify it was this raw determination above all else that compelled John Chapman to fight long past human limits. He simply refused to fail his teammates whatever the cost.

Now honored alongside legendary warriors like Alvin York and Audie Murphy, Technical Sergeant Chapman takes his place in our Nation’s pantheon of greatest heroes. His story serves as a humbling reminder of the steep price that freedom demands, while inspiring us all to lives of selfless service. So much is owed to this man who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Though our words can never fully repay our debt to his memory, we say with utmost gratitude - John Chapman, American hero, we will never forget your valor.

Official 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.

Source: https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/john-a-chapman
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