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Pope combat controller awarded Air Force Cross

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POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (USTCNS) --- Senior Air Force leaders gathered here Friday to honor a fallen hero with the Air Force Cross.

Tech. Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman, a Pope combat controller who sacrificed his life in Afghanistan while saving the lives of his entire team, was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor as an award for valor.

Secretary of the Air Force James G. Roche said Chapman was "an American's American" and a hero.

"We gather today to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of Technical Sgt. John Chapman," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper. "Today we know that John is here with us. Generations of men and women who have sacrificed their lives ... for this nation fill the blank spaces of this hall today. They look upon us. They judge us. Are we worthy - worthy to carry their honor in the examples they set for us? John Chapman is worthy. We respect his memory. God bless him."

Jumper presented the Air Force Cross to Chapman's widow, Valerie. Chapman's parents, Terry Giaccone and Gene Chapman, each received one of the medals from the Chief of Staff as well.

The Air Force Cross has been awarded only three times since Vietnam and to only 23 enlisted airman since the award's inception.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R. Murray said, "Such is the high degree of heroism for the merit of this medal's award."

Chapman and his team were inserted by helicopter into an area of Afghanistan, March 4, 2002, for a mission. During insertion, the helicopter came under heavy machine gun fire and was directly hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The grenade hit caused one of the members of the team, a United States Navy sea-air-land team member, to fall from the aircraft.

The helicopter was severely damaged and made an emergency landing seven kilometers away from where the Navy team member fell.

After landing, Chapman called in an AC-130 gunship to provide close air support and cover the stranded team before directing the gunship to search for the missing team member. Chapman called for, coordinated and controlled an evacuation helicopter for the team, limiting their exposure to enemy fire.

According to the citation, "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 Sergeant Chapman 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 enemy position enabled his team to move to cover and break enemy contact."

The team leader credited John's aggressive and selfless actions with saving the lives of the entire team.

Chapman's name was also added to a memorial at the Combat Control School Friday. The memorial has the names of all the combat controllers who have been killed on a separate plaque. Each plaque has the name and rank of the fallen member and the place where they fell.

Chapman, a Windsor Locks, Conn., native, dropped out of the University of Connecticut so that he could enlist in the Air Force Sept. 27, 1985.

Chapman approached his father, Gene, and indicated that he wanted to join the Air Force.

Gene said, "I looked at him and asked 'What about college?' He didn't want to go back to college, but wanted to enter the Air Force. I told him it is a good thing to go into the military, but don't waste it; come out with a skill that you can use the rest of your life for hobby or sustenance."

"Thanks dad," said John, "Because I joined on the first of August and report on the third of September."

Chapman retrained from information systems into the combat control career field and began CCT training at Lackland AFB, Texas, in 1989.

After CCT graduation, Chapman was assigned to various CCT teams before he was hand picked to return to Pope with an assignment to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron. While with the 24th STS, Chapman honed his skills to mastery, becoming known as a skilled radio communicator, aircraft landing zone controller, combat search and rescue professional, air traffic controller, free-fall parachutist, static-line jumpmaster and military scuba-dive instructor.

After the award ceremony, Gene Chapman spoke of how his son always called him "ole," rather than old, man. He then told of his last conversation with his son.

"It was March 1, four days before he died. He called and I heard that, 'Hey ole man,'" Gene Chapman said as his eyes began filling with tears. "I told him 'what are you calling me for? I told you to talk to Val and the kids if you could call.' He said, 'I took care of that. I only have a minute and a half and I just wanted to hear your voice.' That was the last time I talked with him."

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