Fallen Air Force Tech. Sergeant to Receive Medal of Honor in August

Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, who died in an attack by Al-Qaida and Taliban forces. (US Air Force photo)
Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, who died in an attack by Al-Qaida and Taliban forces. (US Air Force photo)

President Donald Trump next month will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Tech. Sgt. John Chapman for his actions in Afghanistan in 2002, the White House announced Friday.

Trump is set to present the highest military award to Chapman's wife, Valerie Nessel, and family during a ceremony Aug. 22, the White House said.

Chapman will be the first airman to receive the award since the Vietnam War and the nineteenth since the Air Force was established in 1947, officials said.

"Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement Friday. "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."

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson added, "Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America's highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago. He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America's best and bravest airmen."

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Chapman, a Special Tactics combat controller, received the Air Force Cross for his actions, one of the 10 Air Force Crosses and 44 Silver Stars awarded to airmen in the Global War on Terrorism.

He was attached to SEAL Team 6 team in 2002 during Operation Anaconda, a large-scale attempt to clear Afghanistan's Shah-i-Kot Valley of al-Qaida and Taliban forces. The team's task was to establish an outpost atop the Takur Ghar mountain.

It has been reported that Chapman, who fell in battle and was believed to be dead, lived for more than an hour after the SEAL team left. His final hours in Afghanistan were unveiled in details first obtained by The New York Times in 2016.

Due to timing delays, the MH-47 Chinook carrying the team arrived to find al-Qaida forces waiting and took heavy fire. During the assault, one SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, fell out of the helicopter, which crash landed about four miles away.

Chapman soon after began calling in airstrikes from AC-130 gunships circling overhead.

According to his Air Force Cross citation, Chapman "then directed the gunship to begin the search for the missing team member. He requested, coordinated, and controlled the helicopter that extracted the stranded team and aircrew members."

Chapman eventually returned on another Chinook with five SEALs to rescue Roberts on the hillside, which would become known as "Roberts Ridge."

Advancing into the region, Chapman engaged and killed two enemy personnel, and exchanged fire with multiple fighters from all around.

"From close range, he exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds," the citation said. "His engagement and destruction of the first enemy position and advancement on the second position enabled his team to move to cover and break enemy contact."

While it was originally believed Chapman was killed in the firefight, new evidence from Predator drone footage coupled with video feed from an AC-130 showed a grainy image of Chapman alive up to an hour after his teammates left the area.

The footage showed that Chapman fought al-Qaida fighters alone -- engaging one in hand-to-hand combat -- after his unit departed, the Times said.

The Air Force confirmed part of that sequence of events Friday.

"During this bold attack, he was struck and temporarily incapacitated by enemy fire," the Air Force said in its statement.

"Despite his wounds, Sergeant Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates," the service said.

Goldfein added, "I extend my deepest thanks to the members of Tech. Sgt. Chapman's family, his military family, and the airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines who were his brothers on the battlefield and who have remained committed to honoring his legacy. He is a true American hero."

"This is a reflection of our commitment to recognizing the heroic actions of our Airmen," said Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright, chief master sergeant of the Air Force.

"As Chapman's story reminds us, we have a sacred duty to honor the actions and sacrifices of all our service members," he said. "I share our airmen's deepest gratitude to the Chapman family, as well as the family members of all those who gave their lives serving our great nation."

Task & Purpose first reported the anticipated announcement in April.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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