Tech Sgt. John Chapman, USAF, in Afghanistan in 2002. (Photo: USAF)
Operation Anaconda was in progress on March 4, 2002. A number of special operations personnel (Army Rangers, Green Berets, SEALs, Air Force Special Tactics) joined by elements of the 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Air Assault Division, as well as components from various allied forces, took on the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The fight was a tough one – and things went wrong for the Americans.
Operation Anaconda is best known as the fight where Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts fell from a helicopter and fought the enemy for a while. A rescue team of SEALs along with Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went after Roberts. According to a recent report by The New York Times, during the fighting, Chapman was knocked out – believed to be dead by SEALs, who were forced to fall back during the fighting. Their plan was to hammer the enemy with air strikes and then go back to retrieve Chapman's body.
Footage from a RQ-1 Predator and AC-130 Spectre gunship, though, told a different story. Chapman was not only alive, he was fighting. In fact, in a cruel twist of irony, Chapman was apparently killed providing cover fire for the helicopter carrying a quick-response force.
Takur Ghar after the battle between Special Operations forces and Al Qaeda in March 2002. (Photo: DoD)
In 2003, Chapman received an Air Force Cross posthumously. Now, after a review of the seven Air Force Crosses awarded since 9/11, he is up for the Medal of Honor. The key evidence that could determine if Chapman's award is upgraded could very well come from the video footage from the Predator and Spectre. If so, it would be the first Medal of Honor bestowed based on evidence from technology as opposed to eyewitnesses.