SEALs rally to discredit posthumous Medal of Honor recommendation for Airman
The Air Force is proud of Technical Sergeant John Chapman’s legacy. They believe he deserves the Medal of Honor for fighting Al-Qaeda fighters for an hour after a team of Navy Seals (who believed that Chapman was dead) left him on a mountain top in 2002. Now the SEALs are reportedly arguing with the Air Force about what happened, and insist that Chapman was actually dead when they retreated. They do not think the Medal is deserved.
Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, was killed in the Battle of Roberts Ridge in Afghanistan in 2002. According to the Air Force, Chapman’s story is inspiring. Chapman was wounded during a chaotic fight. His team thought he was dead and retreated. He wasn’t dead, just unconscious. When he came to, he wasn’t alone on the mountain top. He was facing al Qaida fighters who were closing in.
Chapman was in the battle with SEAL Team 6. He was working as their radio operator. When Chapman was wounded, he fell onto his back. One of the SEALs, senior chief petty officer Britt Slabinski, told the New York Times he could see the laser on Chapman’s rifle, which was lying on his chest, moving as Chapman breathed in an out. The fight raged on, and Slabinski managed to get to Chapman, but he was no longer moving. Slabinski couldn’t find a pulse.
The SEALs retreated, leaving Chapman on the ridge. Up to this point, both sides seem to agree on the facts.
“But newly-enhanced video from a Predator drone showed more evidence that Chapman was not dead, but instead unconscious, when a team of Navy SEALs withdrew from the battle under withering fire,” The Air Force Times writes.
When Chapman awoke, he could see al Qaida fighters approaching. They were coming in from three sides. Chapman crawled into a bunker. From there, he shot and killed one fighter. Chapman killed another in hand-to-hand combat.
With this new information, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James recommended Chapman be awarded the Medal of Honor. Task and Purpose is reporting that the White House has agreed with that recommendation.
The citation for his Air Force Cross tells what happened before he was shot. “… during his helicopter insertion for a reconnaissance and time sensitive targeting close air support mission, Sergeant Chapman’s aircraft came under heavy machine gun fire and received a direct hit from a rocket propelled grenade which caused a United States Navy sea-air-land team member to fall from the aircraft.”
“Though heavily damaged, the aircraft egressed the area and made an emergency landing seven kilometers away. Once on the ground Sergeant Chapman established communication with an AC-130 gunship to insure the area was secure while providing close air support coverage for the entire team. He 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. These actions limited the exposure of the aircrew and team to hostile fire. Without regard for his own life Sergeant Chapman volunteered to rescue his missing team member from an enemy strong hold.”
“Shortly after insertion, the team made contact with the enemy. Sergeant Chapman engaged and killed two enemy personnel. He continued to advance reaching the enemy position then engaged a second enemy position, a dug-in machine gun nest. At this time the rescue team came under effective enemy fire from three directions.”
“From close range he exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds. 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. In his own words, his Navy sea-air-land team leader credits Sergeant Chapman unequivocally with saving the lives of the entire rescue team.”
And after all of that, he wasn’t done. Chapman carried on the fight. Alone.
The Navy disagrees. This week, The White House announced that Chief Britt Slabinski, the SEAL who couldn’t find Chapman’s pulse, will be awarded The Medal of Honor.
The Navy has also revised some of what they initially wrote about the battle that night. “While previously agreeing that Chapman’s decision to storm the Al-Qaeda bunker after leaving the helicopter was heroic,” The Daily Mail writes, “in late 2016 they released a new account suggesting he had in fact been foolhardy and disobeyed orders.”
“This suggested Chapman had disobeyed Slabinski’s order to find cover and make contact with a helicopter overheard, a SEAL representative said, adding that this ‘could have saved Chapman and prevented the wounding of two others’.”
The tensions, so far, are cordial enough. The decision is also not going to be made by either the Air Force or the Navy. It is now up to President Trump and his advisors.