Category Archives: Special Operations

USAF Special Operator May Posthumously Receive Medal of Honor for 2002 Battle on Takur-Ghar in Afghanistan

TSgt. John Chapman May Have Fought Desperate, Solo Battle to Safeguard Rescuers.

Alone, abandoned, outgunned. USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman wakes up on a freezing mountaintop in Afghanistan to realize a special operator’s worst nightmare: he is trapped by himself behind enemy lines.

Now he must fight for his life. He is wounded, exposed and low on ammunition as he faces a large number of insurgents bent on making sure he is dead, or worse.

It is Mar. 4 and 5, 2002. The U.S. and coalition led Global War on Terror is at its peak. Coalition conventional and special operations forces are engaged in Operation Anaconda, a combined U.S. military, CIA and international attempt to eliminate Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from the rugged, remote Shahi-Kot Valley in the Arma Mountains of Afghanistan southeast of the Zurmat district.

The operation started hours earlier, and it is already not going well. Among other problems, mechanical delays have caused a U.S. MH-47E Chinook heavy special operations helicopter to attempt to land directly on top of the 10,469-foot Takur-Ghar mountain near sunrise. The helicopter was supposed to insert a long-range surveillance team that would have climbed from their originally planned landing zone (LZ) lower on the mountain to the top of the mountain to provide overwatch for the operation. But the delays compelled planners to save time by landing directly on top of Takur-Ghar. The large helicopter, callsign “Razor 03”, immediately comes under withering machinegun and rocket fire from insurgents dug-in on the mountain summit.

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

One U.S. Navy SEAL, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, slips on a slick of expanding hydraulic fluid on the back ramp of “Razor 03”. Roberts slides out of the helicopter and falls to the ground below. The heavily damaged helicopter with casualties on board attempts to retrieve him, but can no longer remain in the air. It crash lands several miles away near the bottom of the mountain. Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts is left alone on top of the mountain to fight for his life.

The wreckage of the first MH-47E Chinook, callsign “Razor 03”, on the summit of Takur-Ghar. (Photo: U.S. DoD File)

The heroic story of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts is well-known from books and other media. But information suggests Roberts wasn’t the only man left alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar in a lonely, one-man battle for survival.

Following the fall of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts from the back ramp of the first MH-47E helicopter “Razor 03”, a second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, this one with callsign “Razor 04”, returned to an area near the original landing site of “Razor 03” near the top of Takur-Ghar in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

The second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, “Razor 04”, inserted a small team of operators including Navy SEALs and an Air Force special operator in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

One of the rescuers was USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman. After their insertion the second team of Navy SEALs and Air Force TSgt. Chapman came under heavy insurgent fire at the summit of Takur-Ghar and several were wounded. For the second time that day, they too were forced to withdraw from the summit. But Chapman had been hit and lay motionless on top of the mountain. When the SEALs withdrew under heavy insurgent gunfire, they thought Tech Sgt. John Chapman was killed in the firefight. It turns out they were likely wrong.

Recent information strongly suggests that USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman survived alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar after the SEAL withdrawal and singlehandedly fought insurgents in hand-to-hand combat. After what appears to be a dramatic close-quarters battle, he did not survive. Now TSgt. John Chapman may receive the United States’ highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

A Department of Defense 3D map showing the location of Takur-Ghar relative to the rest of Operation Anaconda. (Photo: DoD)

In 2016, USAF Colonel Andrew N. Milani, former commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, presented an addendum to an original 2003 report he wrote about the incident that says, “With some of the original uncertainty removed, I can state that the probability now lies more in favor of Chapman surviving the original assault”.

TSgt Chapman has already been awarded the Air Force Cross, but the more recent review of intelligence gathered from the top of Takur-Ghar supports the current push to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor.

As indicated in the documents that awarded him his Air Force Cross, Chapman had, “exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds.”

New examination and analysis of video shot from an MQ-1 Predator drone and an AC-130 Spectre gunship above Takur-Ghar may appear to tell the story of remarkable heroism.

At approximately 05:25 local time, video shot from both the MQ-1 Predator drone and from an orbiting AC-130 Spectre gunship showed a person on the ground, almost certainly TSgt. Chapman, moving. And fighting back against insurgents.

“It was really grainy. But there was still somebody up there fighting, and you could see that,” USAF Sgt. Kenny Longfritz, Chapman’s first sergeant at 24th USAF Special Tactics Squadron, said of the Predator drone footage he reviewed after the battle.

The grainy surveillance video goes on to reveal a brutal fight. At 06:00 local time insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Chapman’s position after he had regained consciousness and joined the battle. At the same time the insurgents attacked Chapman at close range with the RPG, one insurgent charged Chapman’s position in an attempt to overrun him. Chapman killed the insurgent. Moments later another insurgent crawled into Chapman’s foxhole. In the surveillance video, the two can be seen engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Chapman prevailed again, killing the insurgent at arms’-length.

Only moments after Chapman’s desperate one-man stand, two helicopters carrying 75 U.S. Army Rangers were bearing down on Takur-Ghar in a last, massive assault to seize the summit position. It was not known at the time that Chapman was still in position fighting to the death. In his final moments, as the helicopters approach, Chapman appears to rise to provide covering fire for the approaching aircraft- possibly with the dead insurgent’s weapon, maybe with his own, no one knows. As he lays down a field of suppressive fire presumably to protect the incoming helicopter force, insurgents finally gun him down in a withering fusillade of machine-gun fire.

Chapman’s survival and courageous one-man fight against insurgents on top of Takur-Ghar could very well have enabled the approaching helicopter assault force to land more safely than without his suppressive covering fire during his final moments.

In multiple media stories, from the New York Times to Task and Purpose, there are reports that TSgt. John Chapman will receive the Medal of Honor. Journalist Paul Szoldra wrote in an April 20, 2018 article in Task and Purpose that:

“Chapman’s family was notified sometime in March that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, according to several sources familiar with the matter. A source familiar with the Medal of Honor awards process told me the time between family notification and the award ceremony in Washington is typically a matter of weeks.”

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

While the Whitehouse has declined to comment yet on any upcoming award for John Chapman, the emerging version of events on top of Takur-Ghar on those days back in 2002 strongly suggest that he demonstrated exceptional selflessness, courage and determination in his solo defense of the mountain top against insurmountable odds. As the United States celebrates its annual Memorial Day holiday to remember servicemen fallen in combat, the new information about USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman valor seems deserving of the nation’s highest award for heroism.

Watch C-17, A-10 and HC-130J Aircraft Operate From Delamar Dry Lake Bed (the original emergency landing site for the X-15)

U.S. Air Force landed and took off from the Delamar Dry Lake Bed, the emergency landing site for the X-15.

C-17 Globemaster III airlifters from 57th Weapons Squadron, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 66th Weapons Squadron, HC-130J from the 34th Weapons Squadron as well as HH-60Gs belonging to the 66th Rescue Squadron took part in USAF Weapons School squadrons composite mission application and combat search and rescue operations at the Delamar dry lake bed on the NTTR (Nevada Test and Training Range).

Referred to as “Texas Lake” dry lake bed because of its resemblance to the state of Texas from the air, Delamar Lake landing strip was established in 1943 and, in the 1960s it was designated emergency landing sites for the North American X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

In fact, the dry lake bed was located underneath the Delamar Dry Lake Drop Zone where the X-15s brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber, were dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8.

The Delamar Lake Landing Strip consists of a 15,000 ft long runway; still, considered the lack of obstacles, aircraft can land in any direction.

Along with making “unprepared landing strip operations” training possible, dry lakes can be particularly useful also in case of emergency: the huge lakebed can minimize the damage to a plane forced to land there. Here is what happened when a B-1 Lancer performed a crash landing on the Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989. Here you can find a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifter making a successful emergency landing once again at Rogers Dry Lake in 2001.

 

Dramatic Rescue At Sea: U.S. Air Force Pararescue Makes Night Jump at Sea.

In a Rare Use of Capabilities Elite USAF Rescue Team Jumps to Aid Burned Sailors.

In one of the most dramatic operational scenarios possible, seven elite New York Air National Guard Pararescue operators have executed a daring nighttime, open ocean parachute jump to board a burning ship at sea and rescue its crew.

The drama unfolded 1,200 miles off the east coast of the United States in the central Atlantic Ocean. At approximately 0700 hours local on Monday morning an explosion and fire ripped through the bulk cargo-carrying vessel Tamar. The Captain issued a distress call immediately. The vessel was too far out to sea for Coast Guard assets to effect rescue so the mission was handed over to the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing with the Canadian and Portuguese coast guards each providing support to the rescue.

The bulk cargo-carrying vessel Tamar before the explosion. (File Photo via MarineTraffic.com)

The New York Air National Guard launched a four-engine turboprop HC-130 Hercules long-range search and rescue aircraft from the 102nd Rescue Squadron. The specially modified aircraft was carrying eight aircrew plus the Pararescue team and support personnel from the 106th Rescue Wing, based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York.

After the long flight to the objective over the open Atlantic the Pararescue team deployed a rigid inflatable boat by parachute to the ocean surface. The rescue team then parachuted into the sea around sunset. Pararescuemen swam to their rigid inflatable boat and immediately sailed to the nearby Tamar for boarding.

An HC-130 Hercules long-range rescue aircraft from the 106th Rescue Wing taxis for take-off before the rescue jump. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

The first group of Pararescue operators landed in the ocean at 1950 Hr.s Eastern Time zone, just after sunset. By 2000 Hr.s ETZ all seven Pararescuemen had boarded the Tamar and were administering medical aid to the injured crewmen onboard, according to 106th Rescue Wing operations officials.

The Portuguese Air Force are planning to winch-hoist the survivors up to a rescue helicopter for transport to a hospital in Ponta Delagada, Azores once the Tamar is within range, according to 106th Rescue Wing operations. Unfortunately reports indicate two victims of the explosion have already died on board from their injuries. At least three more injured crewmembers are under the care of the Air Force Pararescue team.

The damaged Tamar is still nearly 30 hours sailing time away from Portuguese rescue helicopter range, according to sources at the 106th Rescue Wing.

“The 106th Rescue Wing is happy to support the Coast Guard in this rescue mission”, said Col. Nicholas Broccoli, the 106th Rescue Wing Vice Commander. “This is what we train for and our pararescuemen, pilots, crew members and the rest of our team are the best of the best.”

A U.S. Air Force Pararescue operator executes an open-ocean parachute delivery in training. (Image credit: U.S. Air Force)

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Has Just Dropped Largest U.S. Conventional Bomb on ISIS Cave Complex in Afghanistan

First Ever Operational Use of the GBU-43B MOAB Suggests Target Was of Strategic Value.

A U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talon II has dropped the first operational GBU-43B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst) on a cave complex target in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated members of the so-called Islamic State were using the cave complex. Both personnel and equipment were targeted in the strike that occurred at approximately 1800 hr.s local.

The massive, 11-ton, parachute deployed GBU-43B is the largest conventional air dropped weapon ever employed by the U.S. military. The “MOAB” produces shock, overpressure and blast effects equal to tactical nuclear weapons without residual radioactive fallout or the political ramifications associated with nuclear weapons.

The GBU-43B MOAB is deployed from a specially adapted MC-130 Combat Talon II using a system of rollers and a deployment sled. The bomb is attached to the deployment sled then pulled from the rear cargo ramp using a drogue parachute. Once pulled out the back cargo door of the MC-130 the sled falls away from the 30-foot long bomb. The bomb uses guidance wings and a system of stabilizers to maintain consistent ballistic flight trajectory and control its descent rate for more precise guidance. The MOAB uses a satellite guidance system along with internal gyros. GPS target coordinates are initially slaved from the launch aircraft then programmed into the weapon prior to release in close proximity to the target. Once released at medium to high altitude depending on target stand-off requirements the weapon uses its internal GPS for its terminal guidance to the target.

The GBU-43B is primarily intended to produce an “overpressure” or localized barometric shock wave effect to neutralize its target. The 9,500-kilogram bomb uses 18,700 pounds of H6 explosive, a combination of RDX explosive made of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine, conventional TNT explosive used in commercial dynamite and aluminum powder. The high-energy H6 explosive is made in Australia according to sources and is also used in concussive weapons such as mines and depth charges to produce a similar overpressure effect.

The shock wave generated by the massive release of energy from the explosion is transmitted through the air and into solid objects such as reinforced bunkers and cave complexes. This often results in their collapse. U.S. military officials also note a significant psychological impact to the employment of the GBU-43B MOAB because of its massive blast and the ability to produce a large mushroom-shaped cloud in certain atmospheric and terrain environments mimicking the appearance of a nuclear strike. There is no radioactive component to the GBU-43B.

According to several sources this was likely the only GBU-43B in the operational theater. Unless production has resumed, there are likely only 15 (14 now) operational GBU-43B MOAB weapons in U.S. inventory. The use of the weapon suggests that the target attacked was of strategic importance to the conflict in the region. Because of the special equipment and planning required to employ the GBU-43B this operation likely took a number of days minimally to plan prior to execution. No bomb damage assessment information has been released about the strike yet.

The MOAB should not be mistaken with the MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator) bunker buster bomb.

We Went Inside Realistic Urban Training with the U.S. Marine Corps 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit)

Recently Todd Miller of The Aviationist joined the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) for “Realistic Urban Training” (RUT), a live fire assault on an “urban complex” on the ranges at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, CA.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is working up in preparation for their deployment this summer to the Pacific. The 15th MEU will deploy on the U.S.S. America (LHA-6) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) which includes the U.S.S. San Diego (LSD-25) and U.S.S. Pearl Harbor (LSD-52). The MEU is the smallest Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) numbering about 2,200 Marines. MEUs are broadly capable, forward deployed forces prepared to quickly respond to a global crisis of a humanitarian or military nature.

For observers gathered on the live range at the Marine Corps Air and Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) the first indication the exercise had started was the sound of the unseen jet aircraft at altitude sweeping the valley. Within minutes the “whump, whump” of artillery fired from miles away was heard, followed by artillery impact in the valley. VMM-161s (MCAS Miramar) UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper rolled into the valley and cycled the area, periodically making rocket runs and raining lead.

MV-22B Ospreys fully loaded with Marines from the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) came into the valley flying under active artillery fire (pounding simulated targets on the outskirts of the village).

MV-22 Osprey from the VMM-161 Greyhawks on landing approach with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). During Realistic Urban Training (RUT), live fire training as part of workups to deployment. MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, CA.

MV-22 Osprey from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA full of Marines circle prior to landing – with artillery pounding positions in the distance. At the MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA during the 15th MEUs Realistic Urban Training (RUT) March 10, 2017.

MV-22 Osprey from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA disembarks Marines during the 15th MEU Realistic Urban Training (RUT). March 10, 2017.

MV-22 Osprey from the VMM-161 Greyhawks on landing approach with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). During Realistic Urban Training (RUT), live fire training as part of workups to deployment. MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, CA.

The MV-22Bs landed and disappeared into clouds of dust, effectively obscuring the Marines as they disembarked. CH-53E Super Stallions appeared firing flares, and dropped into their landing zone. The conditions demonstrated the reality of what both man and machine must contend with in their design environment. This was no airshow. High temps, full loads, and “brown out” conditions when landing in the field. This is the norm; in the heat, the dirt, fully loaded, and in other circumstances landing on ships, night flying with NVGs, high altitudes, full loads, all with the very real potential of taking live fire. The aircraft crews of VMM-161 made it look second nature. This is their office.

CH-53E Super Stallion from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA climbing out of the landing zone with Marines – headed home after a long day. Marines from the 15th MEU during Realistic Urban Training (RUT). MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

CH-53E from the VMM-161 Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar drops onto range with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) The 15th MEUS live fire, Realistic Urban Training (RUT) is underway at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

CH-53E from the VMM-161 Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar drops into its dust shroud with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The 15th MEUS live fire, Realistic Urban Training (RUT) is underway at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

CH-53Es of the VMM-161 Greyhawks (MCAS Miramar) moving up and away full of Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Realistic Urban Training (RUT), MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

MV-22 of the VMM-161 Greyhawks (MCAS Miramar) breaks free it’s “dust screen” and accelerates up and away with a hold full of Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Realistic Urban Training (RUT), MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

Once the Marine BLT off loaded, they found gravity in their own element. Fire teams quickly located and engaged simulated adversaries with suppressing fire. Mortar teams were established and drew the attack perimeter closer to the urban area. A fire team used anti-tank missiles to take out simulated armor, and on command BLT 5/1 unleashed a wave of steel rain on the urban environment. Marine squads and fire teams moved forward under cover to begin the meticulous effort to clear the urban area of threats. Breach charges obliterated doors, flashbangs stunned potential adversaries and heavy fire resonated as every interior corner was cleared. Throughout the assault the Marines navigated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a variety of booby traps.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 make their way from one complex to another during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

Marine from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 makes his way through the smoke towards a complex doorway during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 provide suppressing fire on Urban environment during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

This is just one day in the aggressive six months of “crawl-walk-run” work-ups towards deployment of the 15th MEU.

Commanded by Col. Joseph Clearfield the 15th MEU is based out of Marine Base Camp Pendleton, CA. MEUs are scalable, composite units made of lethal ground combat (GCE), aviation combat (ACE), logistics combat (LCE) and command elements (CE). The 15th Meu includes the following units;
GCE, Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 5/1;
ACE, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-161 (reinforced);
LCE, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 15.
Realistic Urban Training (RUT) provided an insight into the depth and complementary nature of resources utilized by the MEU – and demonstrated the Marine philosophy that “no force fights alone.” A variety of combat capabilities ensures MEUs have everything necessary to penetrate contested space, complete objectives and exfiltrate – or secure and hold ground.

Urban operations are only one of thirteen mission capabilities that must be mastered prior to deployment. The combined MEU/ARG is fully capable of a wide variety of missions including (but not limited to);

  • Amphibious assaul
  • Amphibious raid
  • Maritime interception Operations (MIO)/Visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS)
  • Advance force operations
  • Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
  • Humanitarian assistance (HA)
  • Stability operations
  • Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)
  • Joint and combined operations
  • Aviation operations from expeditionary shore-based sites
  • Theater security cooperation activities
  • Airfield/port seizure

Utilizing a Rapid Response Planning Process (R2P2) the MEU/ARG is fully prepared to respond to a crisis and initiate a mission in as little as 6 hours. The groups capability and proximity to areas of crisis position it as a force of choice to initiate, support and or achieve directed objectives

The Marines of the 15th MEU (and the other 6 MEUs) represent the United States of America as the providers of sustenance after humanitarian disaster, as law and order on the high seas, or as the last act of diplomacy – military force. America has entrusted them with the Nation’s weightiest responsibilities and they do America proud.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to; 1st Lt Francheska Soto, Outreach Officer & Sgt Paris Capers, Mass Communication Specialist, I Marine Expeditionary Force (1st MEF); 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, Public Affairs Officer, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the entire 15th MEU; and the trainers and support team at the MCAGCC.

Image credit: The Aviationist’s Todd Miller

 

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