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Sergeant Chapman enlisted in the Air Force on Sept.27, 1985, as an information systems operator, but felt called to be part of Air Force special operations.
Dating back to his high school days, he made the varsity soccer squad as a freshman.
Also an avid muscle-car enthusiast, he rebuilt and maintained an old Pontiac GTO. Only about one in ten Airmen who start the program graduate.
“If John were to find out he received the Medal of Honor, he would be very humbled and honored,” said Chief Master Sergeant West. Trained to infiltrate in combat and austere environments, he was an experienced static line and military free fall jumper, and combat diver.
“He was just doing his job, and that’s what he would say at this moment.” His widow, Valerie Nessel, has always known her husband was capable of such greatness, but asserts that John wouldn’t be anxious to be in the spotlight. Additionally, he earned jumpmaster and dive supervisor qualifications.
“In a very high-caliber career field, with the highest quality of men – even then – John stood out as our guy.” During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop on March 4, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Sergeant Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team was ambushed.
A rocket propelled grenade struck the helicopter and bullets ripped through the fuselage.
The remaining joint special operations team members, fully aware of his precarious situation, immediately began planning a daring rescue attempt that included returning to the top of Takur Ghar where they had just taken heavy enemy fire.
As the team returned to Petty Officer Roberts’ last-known position, now on a second MH-47, the entrenched enemy forces immediately engaged the approaching helicopter with heavy fire.
The blast ripped through the left side of the Chinook, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts off the ramp of the helicopter onto the enemy-infested mountaintop below.
The severely damaged aircraft was unable to return for Petty Officer Roberts, and performed a controlled crash landing a few miles from the mountaintop.