JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Lackland, Texas – A parachute slid off the wall, revealing the text behind it, “Welcome to Chapman Training Annex, home of Air Force Special Warfare Training.” The life and legacy of a Special Tactics combat controller will forever be cemented into history with an installation renaming that serves to inspire not just Special Warfare trainees, but all Airmen that come through the gates of the annex.
The Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Medina Training Annex was renamed the Chapman Training Annex in honor of Special Tactics combat controller Master Sgt. John A. Chapman March 4, 2020. The ceremony, held on the 18th anniversary of his death, was attended by family, friends and fellow Airmen.
In August 2018, Chapman was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor nation’s highest honor for his selfless actions in Afghanistan during the Battle of Takur Ghar on March 4, 2002 in support of Operation ANACONDA.
“With the renaming of this training annex, the Air Force will fittingly memorialize Master Sergeant 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 U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michael Herrera, squadron superintendent of the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron.
Chapman paid the ultimate sacrifice when he selflessly sacrificed his life to fend off a rocket-propelled grenade attack on an incoming MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying a quick reaction force of U.S. Army Rangers and Air Force Special Tactics Airmen.
In a valiant attempt to rescue U.S. Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, Chapman and the team voluntarily reinserted themselves into immediate danger. Upon exiting the helicopter, Chapman immediately charged uphill through the thigh-deep snow, directly engaging enemy combatants, clearing the position.
With no regard for his own life, Chapman intentionally moved from cover and was struck by enemy machine gun fire. Despite severe, mortal wounds, Chapman continued fighting relentlessly before paying the ultimate sacrifice.
Chapman was posthumously promoted to the rank of Master Sergeant on Aug. 22, 2018 by General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.
“John Chapman was a great warrior, a steadfast friend, a selfless patriot, and above all—a man of unquestionable character,” said U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, General Stephen W. Wilson. “I think it’s important to never forget his sacrifices, so that this Chapman Annex might stand as an enduring reminder to all about the ideas of selfless service—about an unwavering commitment to duty, and to fellow men, so that we can aptly characterize what John Chapman did and his service to our nation.”
Chapman is one of four enlisted Airmen in the U.S. Air Force to have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
“The heroism and valor of the number of special operators are particularly well chronicled. While there were a number of extremely high awards presented in the aftermath of this battle, the story of John Chapman’s gallantry simply stands above them all,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command. “All Airmen who pass through this gate, for BMT as well as Special Warfare, will gaze upon this welcome sign to the Chapman Annex, and know that they may be called upon to be the next Chappy.”
Chapman’s family members attended the ceremony including his wife, Valerie Nessel and his daughter Brianna Chapman; his mother, Terry Chapman; sister Lori Longfritz and brother Kevin Chapman.
“During training, there will be days when one is pushed beyond physical limitations. Days of little sleep, cold, hunger, pure exhaustion. You’ll feel defeated, and thoughts of quitting creep in often. The operator has to want with every fiber of their being to become an operator,” said Ms. Valerie Nessel, spouse of Master Sgt. John Chapman. “This is where John’s story of heroism and legacy come into play. When doubts enter, one must remember John on that mountain top. You will learn about him through this annex training facility.”
“There is a quote by Arthur Ashe that defines heroism and that is the one word that defines John to the fullest. The quote goes like this, ‘True heroism is remarkably sober, at times undramatic. But it is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.’ I wish all the trainees the best in their pursuit and challenge them to train and operate as John lived and died. Thank you for always remembering John,” Nessel said.
Following the ceremony, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jaime Clark, command chief of the Special Warfare Training Wing, led Airmen, teammates and family members in performing memorial push-ups in honor of Master Sgt. Chapman, a Special Tactics tradition to honor fallen comrades.
The Special Warfare Training Wing selects and trains the Air Force’s conventional and special operations ground combat forces to meet the demand of the future battlefield.
The Special Tactics community was well represented with leaders from the 24th Special Operations Wing including former 24th SOW commander, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Claude Tudor and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, 24th SOW command chief.
“We’re welling with pride seeing this dedication that will cement John Chapman’s valor and sacrifice for future generations of Special Tactics Airmen following in his footsteps,” said Guilmain.
Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operation Command’s tactical air-ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations.