I started out my Air Force career in the Combat Control field. As members of Air Force Special Operations, it’s the job of Combat Control (CCT) specialists to provide command and control and direct air traffic from remote and sometimes hostile areas. Tech Sgt. John A. Chapman is the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.
An Air Force combat controller killed in an infamous battle with al-Qaida militants in the early months of the war in Afghanistan will be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions during that 2002 fight, the White House announced Friday.
President Donald Trump will present the nation’s highest military honor to Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman’s spouse, Valerie Nessel, in a ceremony Aug. 22, according to the White House. The award is an upgrade of the Air Force Cross that Chapman initially received posthumously for his actions on Roberts Ridge in March 2002 as part of an elite special operations team charged with locating and targeting al-Qaida fighters entrenched on Takur Ghar mountain in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border.
He will become the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War, and just the 19th in the service’s history.
The upgrade of Chapman’s medal has been the subject of speculation for a long time among defense officials, who said the service’s top leaders have recommended the upgrade since at least 2016.
The award is at least partially the result of new drone footage that showed Chapman was not yet dead when the team of Navy SEALs that he was fighting alongside of were extracted from the battle, according to officials. Those SEALs have long insisted Chapman was dead when they left him, including retired SEAL Britt Slabinski, who received the Medal of Honor in May for his actions in the same battle. Slabinski, however, has endorsed Chapman’s nomination for the Medal of Honor, telling officials that Chapman’s actions in the battle ensured the survival of his comrades.
Analysis of the drone footage conducted more than a decade after Chapman’s death indicated the airman was merely unconscious when the SEALs left the battlefield. When he regained consciousness, the video shows he resumed fighting al-Qaida militants approaching him.
“Despite his wounds, [Sgt.] Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice,” his Medal of Honor citation will read, according to a statement Friday from the Air Force. “In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.”
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