TSgt. John Chapman in theater. Air Force photo.
The White House is considering upgrading the Air Force Cross of TSgt. John Chapman, who was killed in the famous March 2002 Battle of Takur Ghar, to the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor for valor in combat.
MSgt. Robert Gutierrez, superintendent of standards and evaluations for the Battlefield Airmen Training Group, told reporters Wednesday that Chapman's award consideration is "a huge deal" for the special tactics community.
No airman has been awarded the Medal of Honor for the Global War on Terror, and only nine airmen have received the Air Force Cross, the second highest honor for valor in combat. The Air Force is the only service to not be recognized with the award.
Consideration for the upgrade is based on a thorough review of the award and new evidence, though the move has not publicly been confirmed by either the Air Force or The White House. The Air Commando Association told Air Force Magazine last year that Chapman's Air Force Cross was being considered for an upgrade, and reports from both Task and Purpose and Newsweek earlier this year stated the upgrade was in the works.
Chapman was assigned to a US Navy SEAL team during the 2002 battle, where he was separated and fought alone to repel al Qaeda fighters at the Battle of Takur Ghar. The SEALS reportedly thought Chapman was dead, but new video shows Chapman alive, killing more insurgents and providing cover to a rescue helicopter alone before he was killed. In May, US Navy SEAL Master Chief Special Operator Britt Slabinski was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the battle.
Gutierrez said Wednesday that Chapman's award consideration is "remarkable" for the USAF special tactics community. In 2011, Gutierrez was awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions in a 2009 battle in Afghanistan. In that fight, Gutierrez and a US Army Special Forces team infiltrated a village and came under attack from insurgents. Gutierrez covered for another soldier whose gun jammed, when he was shot in the left shoulder. He killed the insurgent before he fell to the ground and his lung collapsed. After a medic jammed a syringe into his chest to relieve pressure, Gutierrez called for airstrikes from F-16s and A-10s, and then called for his own evacuation helicopter. While his case was also one that many thought should be upgraded, Gutierrez said Wednesday the awards are "honestly, not that big of a deal." He said he is more thankful to be alive, and to have worked with guys who were able to accomplish the mission.
Gutierrez said he was with Medal of Honor recipient US Army SSgt. Robert James Miller during a 2008 mission in Kunar Province when they came under attack. During the fight, Miller was seriously wounded, but still provided suppressive fire to help his wounded commander and the rest of his team survive, until he died from his wounds. Gutierrez said, after seeing in real life the actions that it takes to receive the Medal of Honor, it is hard to "measure up to actions so great?"
"When you witness it and see it, it is so difficult to ever measure yourself against someone's actions that are so great, that they would sacrifice themselves for everyone, to get the mission done," Gutierrez said.
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