Author and former 125th Special Tactics Squadron Commander, Air Force Lt. Col. (ret.) Dan Schilling visited the Portland Air National Guard Base, Portland, Ore., Sept. 8, 2019 to host a professional development seminar for the Airmen of the Oregon Air National Guard.
Dan Schilling retired in 2016 after 31 years of military service. During his comments to the Airmen on base, Schilling said he thought he was done with missions when he left the military.
Despite a long and storied career, the military man continues to be on a mission.
A prior special forces commander, Schilling was a combat controller who served in Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, a story famously highlighted in the book and movie Blackhawk Down.
The mission for Schilling has shifted from directing combat power to a mission of telling a poignant story. The story he’s telling is about Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, a fellow combat controller who lost his life while fighting in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.
Chapman was awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump almost two decades after his passing, for his actions on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan on March 4, 2002. Chapman was the first Airman to posthumously receive the medal since the Vietnam War.
Chapman was attached to a Navy SEAL team. They came under heavy fire when they landed on the mountain which was heavily fortified by experienced fighters. Chapman continued to engage despite sustaining injuries from enemy fire, which ultimately led to his death.
According to Schilling, the decision to co-write the book when approached by Chapman’s sister, Lori Chapman Longfritz, was not an easy one to make. Schilling, however, felt a sense of duty and responsibility to tell Chapman’s story.
“I just had the obligation…I knew the Delta Force guys involved, I knew the SEALs, I knew all the Combat Controllers. I had seen the footage before, we all knew what happened on the mountain at the 24(th Special Tactics Squadron),” said Schilling.
Schilling decidedly took on the task. Writing Chapman’s biography, Alone at Dawn, became his full-time post-retirement endeavor.
Schilling said the goal for the book was “to change the perception about the United States Air Force” and tell the story of Combat Controllers through the story of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.
According to Schilling, Air Force Combat Controllers have similar foundational training to the Navy SEALs, and make a similarly significant impact on the mission of the U.S. Military, yet they are far less familiar to the American public compared to the SEALs. Their training is longer, more challenging, complex, and costly than any other special operations force in the world, says Schilling.
“When there’s a global, attention-grabbing catastrophe, sometimes the world’s first responders are (U.S. Air Force) Combat Controllers,” Schilling remarked during his visit.
Alone at Dawn not only tells the story of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman’s sacrifice for his country, it tells the story of every Combat Controller in the U.S. Air Force. Chapman’s legacy and the legacy of others like him will live on through their stories.