Chapman Promoted, Celebrated at Memorial Ceremony

CMSAF Kaleth Wright appears with the family of late Medal of Honor recipient MSgt. John Chapman at the United States Air Force Memorial during an Aug. 24, 2018, ceremony where Chapman was posthumously promoted. Air Force Magazine photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

The Air Force’s first Medal of Honor recipient for actions since the Vietnam War on Friday finally earned another stripe during a celebration of his life and his service, almost 17 years after his death.

During a ceremony Friday at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., John Chapman was posthumously promoted to master sergeant. Chapman, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor on Wednesday, was killed in the Battle of Takur Ghar in March 2002, where he fought to his death protecting a quick reaction force during Operation Anaconda.

“John chose to go, he chose to fight on, he chose to give his life for his teammates,” CMSAF Kaleth Wright said during the Friday ceremony. “Teammates who were coming to take that mountain, teammates who were coming back for him.”

Late Medal of Honor recipient MSgt. John Chapman is posthumously promoted in an Aug. 24, 2018, ceremony at the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. US Department of Defense video.

During the ceremony, the Air Force unveiled Chapman’s name on the marble wall with all the names of Air Force Medal of Honor recipients. A four-ship “missing man” formation of 1st Special Operations Wing aircraft—an AC-130U Spooky, a MC-130H Combat Talon II, and two CV-22 Ospreys—flew overhead. Hundreds of airmen, most of them combat controllers in scarlet berets, did ceremonial, memorial pushups in Chapman’s memory.

“This is an Air Force moment,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said. “A time to bring together those from our past, our present, and our future. An opportunity to recognize the heroic actions of our special operators and especially our Gold Star families who often bear the brunt of the cost of war.”

The “past” of Air Force special operations at the ceremony came with guest speaker retired Col. John “Coach” Carney, regarded as the father of Air Force Special Tactics. In 1977, Carney formed the first group of air commandos focusing on what would become the special tactics mission—then called Brand X under Military Airlift Command. The mission evolved into its eventual structure under Air Force Special Operations Command, and Chapman was the mold that all special tactics airmen follow.

“Young men of the future will learn of John’s saga, and benefit greatly from his story,” Carney said. “His display of courage will continue to inspire future members of our spec operations forces and he will not be forgotten.

Chapman represents, “The best of all of us,” said CMSgt. Gregory Smith, AFSOC’s command chief master sergeant. On the day of the ceremony, Smith said he sent a noticed to all 17,000 air commandos telling them to take time to think of Chapman and the place he holds in the community.

At US Air Force Special Operations School at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the best of the class is presented the Chapman award. His likeness and stories permeates the community, from the beginning of training to operating locations throughout the world. Chapman is “the standard you look to obtain, because you know how high the stakes are. John Chapman was able to go and fight in very difficult circumstances. … That is the standard we all hope to attain,” said SSgt. John Apple, a combat controller with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.