Pope combat controller awarded Air Force Cross

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason A. Neal
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Senior Air Force leaders awarded the Air Force Cross to Tech. Sgt. John Chapman here Jan. 10.

Chapman, a combat controller killed in Afghanistan while saving the lives of his entire team, was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor as an award for valor.

Secretary of the Air Force James G. Roche said Chapman was "an American's American" and a hero.

"We gather today to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of Technical Sergeant John Chapman," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper. "Today we know that John is here with us."

Jumper presented the Air Force Cross to Chapman's widow, Valerie. Chapman's parents, Terry Giaccone and Gene Chapman, each received one of the medals from the chief of staff.

The Air Force Cross has been awarded to 23 enlisted airmen, only three of those since the Vietnam conflict.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray said, "Such is the high degree of heroism for the merit of this medal's award."

Chapman and his team were inserted by helicopter into an area of Afghanistan on March 4 for a mission. During insertion, the helicopter came under heavy machine-gun fire and was directly hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The grenade caused a Navy SEAL team member to fall from the aircraft.

The helicopter was severely damaged and made an emergency landing seven kilometers away from where the SEAL fell.

After landing, Chapman called in an AC-130 gunship to provide close-air support and cover the stranded team before directing the gunship to search for the missing team member.

Chapman called for, coordinated and controlled an evacuation helicopter for the team, limiting their exposure to enemy fire.

According to the award citation, Chapman volunteered to rescue the missing team member without regard for his own life. He engaged and killed two enemy personnel then continued advancing until engaging a dug-in machine gun nest.

"At this time, the rescue team came under effective enemy fire from three directions," read the citation. Chapman exchanged fire at close range with the enemy until succumbing to multiple wounds. "His engagement and destruction of the first enemy position and advancement on the second enemy position enabled his team to move to cover and break enemy contact."

The team leader credited Chapman's aggressive and selfless actions with saving the lives of the entire team.

After the award ceremony, Gene Chapman spoke of how his son always called him "ole man," rather than old man. He then told of his last conversation with his son.

"It was March 1, four days before he died. He called, and I heard that, 'Hey ole man,'" Gene Chapman said as his eyes began filling with tears. "I told him 'what are you calling me for? I told you to talk to Val and the kids if you could call.' He said, 'I took care of that. I only have a minute and a half, and I just wanted to hear your voice.' That was the last time I talked with him."