Ship named for USAF hero
By Katie Dunnigan
"John would tell you that he was just doing his job," said Col. Kenneth Rodriquez, USAF, commander of the 720th Special Tactics Group, Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman's last commanding officer. He beamed as he spoke to a crowd of more than 300 guests at the ceremony held to officially name a 670-foot chartered Navy cargo ship for the fallen war hero. "He was the kind of guy that we, his teammates, wanted to be."
John Chapman was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his extraordinary heroism. Only three enlisted airmen since the Vietnam era have received this award, the nation's second highest award for valor. Chapman, a combat air controller, was killed in action in March 2002 during an operation in the eastern highlands of Afghanistan.
Chapman's friends and family joined high-ranking military officials, members of the special operations community and foreign military attach's to honor John Chapman by naming a ship for him on April 8 at Military Ocean Terminal, Sunny Point in Southport, N.C.
The container/roll-on/roll-off ship MV TSgt. John A. Chapman will be used to preposition Air Force ammunition in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean.
Capt. Scott Moser, the ship's master, said that he hopes to continue John Chapman's legacy.
"All of the crew members aboard MV Chapman are very proud to be associated with Tech. Sgt. Chapman," he said. "We promise that MV Chapman will give her all to protect America's peace and prosperity, just as John did."
In keeping with maritime tradition, a bottle of ceremonial champagne was broken on the railing of the ship by each of the ship's two sponsors - Valerie Chapman, John Chapman's widow, and Mickey Handy, wife of Air Force Gen. John W. Handy, commander of U.S. Transportation Command. John and Valerie Chapman's two daughters, Madison, age 8, and Brianna, age 6, were maids of honor.
Now a full-time mom, Valerie and her daughters live in the panhandle of Florida.
"John would be very proud, but he was not the kind of man who would seek out such recognition," said Valerie. "We are all so proud of him. I tell the girls that he died fighting for freedom not only for his country, but for them."
John Chapman was a member of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. A native of Connecticut, Chapman was recognized as an expert in assault zone survey operations and was an accomplished air traffic controller. He was a highly proficient military freefall parachutist, a static line jumpmaster and a military scuba dive supervisor.
"John, like all of our battlefield Airmen, brought high-tech to the battlefield," Air Force Chief of Staff General John P. Jumper said at the ceremony.
"They bring it the old-fashioned way with raw guts, courage and honor in ways that make us all very proud."
Military Sealift Command's vice commander, Rear Adm. Hugo G. Blackwood, USNR, also spoke at the ceremony.
"I can assure you that this ship will live up to the heroic example of her namesake, going in harm's way, if necessary, to deliver ammunition and other essential supplies needed for the Air Force to carry out its global mission," he said.
The ship has been under contract to MSC since 2003, sailing in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea laden with Air Force ammunition. Previously named MV Merlin, the ship is owned and operated by Sealift Inc., and crewed by 19 commercial mariners who work for the company.
MV Chapman is one of 36 ships in MSC's Prepositioning Program. Afloat prepositioning ships like Chapman add greatly to the U.S. military's combat readiness by placing war-fighting cargo, equipment and supplies at sea. The ship is ready to sail to contingency locations when called.
Distinctive plastic cocoons cover Chapman's top deck and provide a controlled environment for the storage and transport of containerized ammunition. These cocoons nearly double the capacity of the ship, thus reducing the need for additional prepositioning ships.
"The ship and her cargo must be prepared at all times," said Capt. Moser. "We are ready at a moments notice and can deliver our warfighting cargo virtually anywhere the Air Force needs it."
Afloat prepositioning has become increasingly important as U.S. bases overseas continue to close. Ships like MV Chapman provide a powerful presence "Forward'from the sea."
Brandishing her new name, MV Chapman again heads out to sea this April.
"We are going to make sure that Tech. Sgt. John Chapman's name and legacy of bravery and perseverance live on, helping to shape future generations of warriors," Rear Adm. Blackwood said. "We can do no less for our fallen comrade because he did so much for us."