Fourteen years ago, on top of a snowy Afghanistan mountain top, Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman was presumed dead during the battle of Takur Ghar.
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Chapman, who served as a radioman for the elite SEAL Team 6 in 2002, is now being pushed for the Medal of Honor by Deborah Lee James, the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, after new surveillance footage appears to show that Chapman was not only still alive, but that he continued to fight the opposition after being left alone on the mountain top.
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer, Britt Slabinski, who was on the mission with Chapman recalled that Chapman was unresponsive, and in the midst of the brutal battle and under heavy fire, he presumed the airman was dead.
But according to surveillance footage that has now been reviewed due to new technology, it has been discovered that Chapman didn’t die immediately as previously thought, but instead fought alone for over an hour, killing two al Qaeda militants, one in hand-to-hand combat.
Unfortunately Chapman died later in the fight, after trying to stop a reinforcement push by al Qaeda. Retired Delta Force commander, Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell who was reportedly “involved in the broader operation that included the mountaintop episode,” said that as shocking as this is, it could have happened to anyone during the chaos of a firefight. “If anybody thought Chapman was alive, we would have been trying to move heaven and earth to get him out of there.”
Slabinski, who is now 46 and retired, acknowledged that he could have made a mistake, but he isn’t fully convinced of the new surveillance footage. Slabinski is still haunted by what happened on the mountain, and he continues to replay the events in his head to explain his decisions that day.
“I’m trying to direct what everybody’s got going on, trying to see what’s going on with John; I’m already 95 percent certain in my mind that he’s been killed,” he added “That’s why I was like, ‘O.K., we’ve got to move.’”
His body was recovered later that day with nine bullet wounds, five below his waist and four above. The sequence of the injuries are unknown. Two fatal rounds entered at what would have been an impossible angle had he been killed where the SEALS said he had fallen.
Slabinski concluded that if the new account of what happened on that mountain during Chapman’s final moments are accepted, he will be the one that will take the brunt of the blame. “They’re going to say: ‘Yep, it’s all your fault. You left him up there, behind, alive.’”
The Air Force’s case notes of what happened during that battle include a new analysis of Sergeant Chapman’s autopsy that found that bruising on his forehead could have happened only if he had been alive, making the hypothesis that he had been briefly knocked out when Slabinski was checking him more plausible.
If the Medal of Honor is approved by President Obama, it will be the first time that surveillance technology was used instead of eyewitness accounts for the award.