Report: Fallen Air Force Tech Sgt. Approved for Medal of Honor

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)

The U.S. Air Force is set to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to an airman for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to an exclusive report from Task & Purpose.

The White House will award Tech Sgt. John Chapman, who was killed in eastern Afghanistan in 2002 while serving as a radioman with Navy SEALs, the highest award for military valor in a ceremony later this year, T&P said on Friday.

The Air Force would not comment on the report, and referred all questions to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to a Military.com query and did not confirm any details to Task & Purpose.

In 2016, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James reportedly pushed to elevate Chapman's award. Chapman was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross in 2003.

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Chapman's final hours in Afghanistan were unveiled in new details first obtained by The New York Times. New evidence from drone footage showed that Chapman fought al-Qaida fighters alone on a mountainside after his unit departed, the Times said.

Chapman, a combat controller, was attached to SEAL Team 6 team during Operation Anaconda, a large-scale attempt to clear the Shah-i-Kot Valley of al-Qaida and Taliban forces. The team's task was to establish an outpost on Takur Ghar at the top of the mountain.

Due to timing delays, the helicopter carrying the team arrived to al-Qaida forces waiting for them and took heavy fire. During the assault, one SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, fell out of the MH-47 Chinook. The helicopter 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, the tech sergeant would engaged and kill two enemy personnel, and exchange 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 believed Chapman was killed in the firefight, Predator drone footage coupled with video feed from an AC-130 showed a grainy image of Chapman still living up to an hour after his teammates left the area.

He would go on to kill more enemy fighters, engaging one al-Qaida fighter in hand-to-hand combat.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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