HURLBURT FIELD — All that Dan Schilling wanted to do after 31 years as an Air Force combat controller was "write novels and ski," enjoying retirement in Utah.
But then, Lori Chapman Longfritz tracked him down, asking for his help in writing a book about her brother, Air Force Master Sgt. John Chapman. Chapman was a combat controller who posthumously received the Medal of Honor last year for his actions 16 years earlier on Takur Ghar, a mountaintop in Afghanistan.
"I said, I'll talk to her, but I'm not going to help her write this book,'" Schilling recalled.
Subsequently, Schilling spent some sleepless nights wrestling with the fact that he might be uniquely positioned, as a former combat controller and someone who knew Chapman, to tell Chapman's story. "His commitment to others was very obvious," Schilling said. "A central part of his fabric was to be there for others."
Eventually, Schilling said, "I just felt like I needed to write this book."
"This book" is now in print as "Alone at Dawn," written by Schilling and Longfritz. Schilling will be at the base exchange on Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 28 for a book signing, and he'll be at the Barnes & Noble in Pensacola, at 1200 Airport Boulevard, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on June 29 to sign his book.
Chapman is honored in a number of places on Hurlburt Field. His portrait hangs in the Hall of Heroes in the AFSOC headquarters building; the 24th Special Operations Wing is now housed in the John A. Chapman Building, and a Medal of Honor plaque bearing Chapman's name is part of the Special Tactics Memorial.
Chapman received the Medal of Honor for his actions during a March 4, 2002, battle with al-Qaida insurgents. He was part of a joint special operations team whose helicopter was struck by enemy fire, throwing Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts from the helicopter. The helicopter crashed a couple miles away, but Chapman and Roberts’ other teammates soon returned in a second helicopter. Under heavy enemy fire on the ground, Chapman was critically injured, and was eventually left for dead. Alive and mortally wounded, Chapman continued to fight on alone, saving the lives of other troops arriving on the scene by helicopter.
While Longfritz wanted "Alone at Dawn" to be solely about Chapman — she's now working on a biography of her brother, Schilling said — Schilling saw an opportunity for a broader story. As a result, the book carries a parallel narrative about Chapman and the world of Air Force combat controllers, whom Schilling calls "the deadliest warriors to walk the battlefield in all of human history."
Schilling makes that case because combat controllers, as one-man attachments to special forces teams, are trained in scuba, parachuting and other special forces skills, but are additionally capable of establishing airfields in hostile areas, calling in air strikes, providing communications and other command and control functions, all while adhering to whatever rules of engagement are in force.
"That's a powerful story that the American people need to know," Schilling said. "My mission is to change the American public's view of the Air Force."
In the book, Schilling notes that, even as he fought on alone, mortally wounded, on Takur Ghar, Chapman remained "the deadliest man on the mountain," willing to protect the additional troops arriving by helicopter from enemy fire. In a recent interview, Schilling said Chapman "represents the best traits of the worst experience you can have on a battlefield — being left for dead when you're not."
"I want to reach every American," Schilling said, "and I intend to do that with this book."