Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Remembering our fallen heroes on the 12th anniversary of their fate.

Technical Sergeant John Chapman (CCT) and Senior Airmen Jason Cunningham (PJ) were both killed-in-action (KIA) during Operation Anaconda, also commonly known as “The Battle of Roberts Ridge” named after Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, who fell from the helicopter when it took heavy fire on the initial infiltration on the mountain near Tahur Ghar, Afghanistan on March 4th, 2002.  Both were posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross medal for extraordinary heroism.  Below are excerpts from their medal citations plus a personal story that I witnessed at the Coca Cola Memorial Day Race and Dr. (Maj.) Brian Burlingame’s recollection of SrA Cunningham’s interaction with him, pre- and post-Anaconda. 

Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman
Without regard for his own life Sergeant Chapman volunteered to go back and try to rescue his missing SEAL team member from the 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 SEAL team leader, Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt “Slab” Slabinski, credits Sergeant Chapman unequivocally with saving the lives of the entire rescue team.
Back in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Valerie Chapman was anxiously awaiting her husband’s return from deployment.  John “Chappy” Chapman was an avid NASCAR fan and Valerie had a nice surprise waiting for him.  She had already purchased four tickets to the Coca Cola 600 Memorial Day race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2002, for John, herself and their two young daughters, Madison and Brianna.  John never got to see that race, but Valerie did. 
Valerie Chapman and Mark Martin
As coincidence would have it, AFSOC’s Stars Parachute Demonstration Team was scheduled to jump during pre-race ceremonies.  One of “Chappy’s” former teammates, Staff Sgt. Mike West, was a member of the Stars Team and asked if I (as the Team Coordinator) could somehow work with the pre-race event coordinator, Jay Howard, to have Tech Sgt. Chapman honored and have Valerie, Staff Sgt. Keary Miller and Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown introduced.  Keary and Gabe were on Operation Anaconda and both earned the Silver Star medal for their heroic action. 
Valerie Chapman & Mike Martin
Mike West knew that “Chappy’s” favorite driver was Mark Martin, so during the pre-race driver introductions Mike worked with Martin’s publicist and arranged to have Valerie meet him.  She told Mark that he was her late husband’s favorite driver – then she reached into her purse and presented Mark Martin with Chappy’s CCT coin.  She said the CCT motto is “First There” and wished him good luck in winning the race.  Mark Martin took the checkered flag for the first time in over two years that day with Chapman’s “First There” coin in his pocket.  We all shed a few tears of joy that he won… and tears of sadness, because “Chappy” wasn’t there to witness the victory.

CMSgt. (Ret) Wayne Norrad

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