If it weren’t for an old video footage, this story would never be told. Long after John Chapman was declared KIA (killed in action) on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, the Air Force technical sergeant would be seen engaging Al Qaeda fighters while commandos from SEAL Team 6 hastily retreated from the battle. Chapman would die making a final stand all by himself.
It was the very definition of a mission gone wrong. During Operation Anaconda, Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski was leading a six-man reconnaissance unit from SEAL Team 6 until they started taking heavy fire on top of the Takur Ghar mountain at the Shah-i-Kot Valley in eastern Afghanistan.
Early on, they had already lost one men when Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts slipped and fell out of their helicopter as they came under fire during insertion. In an effort to rescue Roberts, Slabinski and the rest of the SEALs tried to fight their way back, along with Sergeant Chapman. It was during this bold effort where Chapman would be mistaken for dead and later get killed in a firefight.
According to a report from the New York Times, Chapman was assigned to Slabinski’s unit as a radioman. But make no mistake: Chapman could put up a fight. At one point, the technical sergeant even charged ahead of Slabinski. Together, Chapman and SEALs killed fighters hiding in their bunkers. Soon after, however, Chapman got wounded.
During the battle, Slabinski relied on the rise and fall of a rifle’s laser to monitor Chapman’s breathing, determining whether the technical sergeant was still alive. After a tense exchange of gunfire and some grenades, Slabinski saw that the laser was no longer moving.
“I’m already 95 percent certain in my mind that he’s been killed,” Slabinski would later say in an interview.
As the battle got more intense, Slabinski made the decision to get the rest of the men off the mountain. They planned to recover Chapman’s body later, but mortar fire and grenades moved the SEALs farther from Chapman.
Fourteen years later, it would be discovered that Slabinski was wrong. New technology used to examine videos taken from an aircraft flying overhead indicate that Chapman was still alive as the SEAL’s retreated. In a valiant attempt to provide cover for the arriving reinforcements, the technical sergeant engaged with Al Qaeda fighters on his own. He would kill two of them before dying himself.
Because of his final act of bravery, the Air Force secretary is now pushing for Chapman to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Military officials said that SEAL Team 6 has no objections to Chapman’s posthumous award. However, the special operations unit refuses to accept the position that Chapman was alive long after the SEALs’ retreat.
Chapman was known as a combat controller for the Air Force Special Operations Command. He regularly managed radio communications and called in air strikes for a number of special operations units in the battlefield, including SEAL Team 6. He was also a father who left two daughters when he died.
In his final moments, Chapman crawled to a bunker 13 minutes after the SEALs had left. He took fire from a rocket-propelled grenade a few minutes later, but he survived. An Al Qaeda fighter then rushed to him, but Chapman successfully shot him dead. Minutes later, another militant made his way closer to Chapman, and the technical sergeant would also kill him, this time, in hand-to-hand combat.
Then Chapman saw a Chinook helicopter carrying Ranger reinforcements. At this moment, he decided to stand up to get a better angle to lay cover fire for them. It was at this moment where Chapman took machine gun fire, two of which struck him on the right side of his chest. He died almost instantly. Rescue arrived, but it was already too late for Sergeant Chapman.