Airmen who seek to become part of an elite special warfare unit will now start their training at a complex named for Master Sgt. John A. Chapman, a combat controller and Medal of Honor recipient.
Chapman’s widow, Valerie Nessel, and daughter Brianna, pulled aside a sheet of plastic to unveil the Chapman Training Annex at Lackland Air Force Base.
Hundreds from the special tactics community, including trainees, gathered on March 2, the 18th anniversary of Chapman’s death atop Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan, to hear remarks.
In 2002, in the early part of the war, Chapman was serving as the radioman for a Navy, Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) team. While trying to establish an observation point on a high peak, their helicopter met with direct assault from Al-Qaeda forces. One team member, Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts, was tossed from the aircraft and landed in the enemy’s stronghold.
The battered helicopter left him behind and crash-landed a few miles away. Chapman and several others volunteered to go back and rescue Roberts.
“There was no stopping John,” said General Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff for the Air Force. “He wouldn’t dream of not going back.”
Once on the ground, Chapman charged uphill through thigh-deep snow to clear an enemy bunker. He was later shot while engaging with another enemy machine gun. Despite suffering mortal wounds, Chapman continued to battle enemy fighters. His actions made it possible for reinforcements to pull casualties from the battlefield.
“Even as dawn broke over Takur Ghar and the prospect of his own rescue was within reach, John refused to abandon his team,” Wilson added. “It just wasn’t who he was.”
In total, seven service members, including Neil Roberts, died in the battle of Takur Ghar.
In August of 2018, Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the fourth enlisted airman to receive it.
JBSA-Lackland is home to the Air Force’s Special Warfare Training Wing, which activated in October of 2018. Trainees will come to the newly-named Chapman Training Annex to prepare for careers as combat controllers, pararescuemen, tactical air control parties and special reconnaissance personnel.
“With the renaming of this training annex, the Air Force will fittingly memorialize Master Sgt. Chapman at the location where all Air Force enlisted airmen receive their initial combat skills training and all Air Force special warfare airmen begin their journey,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Herrera, squadron superintendent of the 350th special warfare training squadron.
Chapman himself entered the combat controller training pipeline at Lackland in 1989.
Valerie Nessel, Chapman’s widow, said she wished new trainees the best in their pursuits and challenged them to live and operate as her husband did.
“This is a wonderful monument and tribute to him… We are very humbled as a family. Thank you for always remembering John,” she said.
When asked how Chapman would’ve reacted to Wednesday’s tribute, Nessel said that he’d probably be modest.
“He would be extremely humbled,” she said. “He’d be like, ‘Why are you doing this? I was just doing my job? Just like every other operator did.’ So I think he’d be very overwhelmed… and almost a little embarrassed by it.”