Alone at Dawn

Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World's Deadliest Special Operations Force


By Dan Schilling

By Lori Longfritz

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The New York Times bestselling true account of John Chapman, Medal of Honor recipient and Special Ops Combat Controller, and his heroic one-man stand during the Afghan War, as he sacrificed his life to save the lives of twenty-three comrades-in-arms.

In the predawn hours of March 4, 2002, just below the 10,469-foot peak of a mountain in eastern Afghanistan, a fierce battle raged. Outnumbered by Al Qaeda fighters, Air Force Combat Controller John Chapman and a handful of Navy SEALs struggled to take the summit in a desperate bid to find a lost teammate.

Chapman, leading the charge, was gravely wounded in the initial assault. Believing he was dead, his SEAL leader ordered a retreat. Chapman regained consciousness alone, with the enemy closing in on three sides.

John Chapman’s subsequent display of incredible valor — first saving the lives of his SEAL teammates and then, knowing he was mortally wounded, single-handedly engaging two dozen hardened fighters to save the lives of an incoming rescue squad — posthumously earned him the Medal of Honor. Chapman is the first airman in nearly fifty years to be given the distinction reserved for America’s greatest heroes.

Alone at Dawn is also a behind-the-scenes look at the Air Force Combat Controllers: the world’s deadliest and most versatile special operations force, whose members must not only exceed the qualifications of Navy SEAL and Army Delta Force teams but also act with sharp decisiveness and deft precision — even in the face of life-threatening danger.

Drawing from firsthand accounts, classified documents, dramatic video footage, and extensive interviews with leaders and survivors of the operation, Alone at Dawn is the story of an extraordinary man’s brave last stand and the brotherhood that forged him.


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What follows is a select history of one of the deadliest and least-known forces in the history of human warfare. It begins, as many heroic combat tales do, with a crisis.

It's also the story of one man, John Chapman, who would earn the nation's highest honor for bravery when he saved the lives of twenty-three comrades at the willing cost of his own.

Finally, it is the history of John Chapman's fellow Combat Controllers during Operation Anaconda, America's first major operation in its ongoing Global War on Terror. How a handful of Combat Controllers managed to stave off disaster and destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban forces by the score using their unique expertise and wits has gone down in history, even as the doomed operation continues to reveal its secrets to this day.

The history of the men of the Combat Control Teams (known universally by the acronym CCT, whether applied collectively or to an individual) laid down in these pages is by no measure comprehensive; rather it is representative, a distillation of commitment, capability, success, and loss. Delta Force officer Tom Greer, who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden, writes in his book Kill Bin Laden that Combat Controllers are "the best-rounded and uniquely trained operators on the planet. The initial training 'pipeline' for an Air Force special tactics squadron Combat Controller costs twice as much time and sweat as does the journey to become a Navy SEAL or Delta operator.…And that is just to get to a place where they can do the job for which they are really trained, calling those deadly airstrikes."

What's unique about the role of CCT is that wherever the need arises, they are there. In Kill Bin Laden, Greer notes that, "In the relatively finite black SOF world, assaulters and snipers are a dime a dozen. Yes, these men are trained in multiple deadly skill sets and the dark arts of counterterrorism. But…Just because you are the best of the best does not mean you are the best at everything. Any Delta operator can vouch for the capabilities of the Air Force Combat Controllers, and very rarely goes on a 'hit' without the men who wear the scarlet berets." CCT is not permanently assigned to the Special Forces (SF) teams or SEAL platoons they fight alongside but they are attached, to use military parlance (think integrated or embedded), when needed for combat operations. Consequently, in America's longest-running war, the men of Air Force Combat Control collect, in aggregate, more combat action than their special operations counterparts in the Navy and Army—making some of them the most experienced veterans in all of America's previous wars. During global humanitarian crises, they are often the first to arrive, unsupported, to deliver salvation where no other first responders can. Their motto: "First There."

Born of America's disastrous first attempts to insert airborne forces into battle during World War II, Combat Control predates their better-known SEAL and Special Forces counterparts, with whom they've served silently for decades in some of the most dramatic missions in US history. This is the story of one such mission.


The Night Stalker sliced the frigid Afghan darkness of the Shahi Khot Valley. Bristling with two 6,000-round-per-minute M134 miniguns on its sides and an M60 machine gun mounted on the tailgate, it was prepared for small-arms fire from Taliban fighters.

Chief Warrant Officer Alan Mack was on the stick of the MH-47E, America's special operations workhorse of a helicopter. This particular Night Stalker's call sign was Razor-03. In the rear were six SEALs from the most famous unit in Navy history, SEAL Team Six. Mack's only other passenger, the seventh member of a most elite package, was a US Air Force Combat Controller named John Chapman. All seven men were highly trained and themselves bristling with weapons and purpose. Their mission call sign was Mako-30. It was the early morning hours of 4 March 2002.

Mack had flown countless insertions in the early stages of America's newly ordained Global War on Terror in response to the treachery of 9/11. He'd been in Afghanistan for months and was comfortable with the hazards of the mountainous terrain and with the habits of the enemy. The team's insertion point that night on the summit of their objective, a mountain called Takur Ghar, was determined last-minute, and Mack wasn't sure he could pull it off, but he and the SEAL team leader agreed to attempt it. Even the helicopter he was flying was a last-minute change. He and his copilot, Chief Warrant Officer Talbot, had swapped their previous helicopter for this one when the other's number-two engine "ran away," accelerating uncontrollably, and had to be shut down, grounding the bird. The two pilots took on the new helo and, with it, the assigned enlisted crew comprising a flight engineer (who doubled as the right door gunner), a left door gunner, and two tail-ramp members, one of whom manned the tail gun. After a quick crew brief, Razor-03 took to the unwelcoming sky.

As the Night Stalker made its way through the night, frigid air poured into the cargo cabin from the two doors just behind the cockpit, where both gunners stood behind their M134 miniguns, projecting their primed six-barreled lethality through the openings. The heaters failed to keep pace.

On the tail ramp, Sergeant Padrazza surveyed their "customers" through night vision goggles (NVGs) from his position on the "stinger," a 7.62mm M60 strap-mounted machine gun. Unlike during training missions back in the States, that night the mood of the SEALs and Chapman was grim. The men were to be inserted by Razor-03 directly on top of the 10,469-foot mountain peak to establish an observation post. From their commanding position, Chapman, as the team's air expert, would call in airstrikes on Taliban positions throughout the valley. The somberness of the Mako-30 team was intensified by multiple last-minute changes to the mission, not the least of which was their commanders ordering Mako-30 to insert directly atop Takur Ghar mountain instead of offsetting the team, which would have allowed them to approach the summit clandestinely to determine possible enemy locations and capabilities.

From the cockpit, Mack could see another SEAL team's helicopter landing zone (HLZ) as they passed over it. That team, Mako-21, had been inserted by another Night Stalker. Approaching his own mountain from the north, he was roughly two hundred feet above the summit. As they began their long final approach, Talbot had control of the helicopter. Mack continued scanning the HLZ through his NVGs and identified a location where they could set the massive twin-rotor helicopter down; it was a relatively level spot adjacent to a grouping of trees just below the summit. As they closed the distance, Mack noticed footprints on the snow-covered slope. This wasn't alarming in and of itself—Afghans traversed severe and remote terrain in even the most adverse weather—but as the helicopter settled toward the ground, pushing a blizzard of snow in every direction, a figure ducked behind a knoll at their nine o'clock.

Mack keyed his intercom mike and told the SEAL team leader, Britt Slabinski, "You've got a guy at nine o'clock, stuck his head up and disappeared."

"Is he armed?" asked the SEAL.

"I don't know."

Poised to exit the helicopter and anxious to be on the ground, where the team would have more control, he responded, "Roger, we're taking the LZ."

From the front of the helo, Mack was looking through his goggles as the SEALs and Chapman prepared to be inserted, when he noticed a DShK Russian heavy machine gun at their one o'clock position, almost directly in front of them and only 150 feet on the horizon. The DShK is a lethal antiaircraft weapon, and the range of this DShK was point-blank. Before he could call "contact" to the gunners, reports of contacts from multiple locations poured in simultaneously—a donkey at three o'clock, a man ducking behind cover at their ten. The team leader reiterated they were still willing to take the HLZ. Nodding to himself, Mack asked his left gunner if he had the man at their ten o'clock. "Yes."

Mack was about to authorize the left gunner to "engage," when their world exploded. Two rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) slammed into the helicopter's left side. The first warhead went through the left electrical compartment and then an ammo can before exploding, wounding the gunner and preventing him from shooting their assailant. He'd not been authorized to engage by Mack yet anyway, so the Taliban got in the first punch. And it was a knockout. The RPG killed all the AC electrical power to the stricken bird, and that in turn disabled the electrically powered miniguns. The gunner hit the floor. Before anyone in the helicopter could respond, a second RPG struck, knocking out their multimode radar system.

In the back, the SEAL team and Chapman kept their composure, readying to step off. Sergeant Dan Madden, in control of the ramp, put his arm out and blocked the team's exit just as their world caught fire. On the heels of this, he called to the pilots, "Ready rear, go go go, lift off!"

As the senior pilot, Mack took control of the damaged bird from Talbot as the helicopter's systems began failing, one after the other. First their multifunction displays failed, followed by the Nav system, then the automatic flight control system, and with it all the radios. The cockpit went black. One saving grace was the DC power, which remained, allowing the intercom to work so at least the crew could talk, even if they couldn't fight. The crew's NVGs, which were individually powered by helmet-mounted batteries, were also safe from the failing systems of the ravaged aircraft.

Mack rolled on more power through the collective stick and took off. But the added thrust for the high-altitude liftoff under extreme conditions caused a dangerous development: The rotors began to slow and droop. Though no instruments indicated this in the cockpit, years of experience told Mack he had a problem when he heard the pitch of the spinning rotors change. To compensate, he reduced power to regain desperately needed rotor RPM, causing the helicopter to jerk up and down above the now "very hot" LZ and mountain.

In the back, Petty Officer Neil Roberts, who'd not snapped his safety line to the aircraft, stood by the rear at the ramp's hinge, facing the blackness beyond, ready. The fact that he was not on the intercom wasn't a problem, since he wouldn't exit the helicopter until directed by the crew, and Madden had just blocked the ramp.

As the stricken helicopter struggled to lift, the situation worsened. A third RPG came screaming from the darkness and slammed into their right side, blowing out the right electrical box. Before they could gain any distance, yet another RPG hit the ramp where Roberts and Madden stood with Padrazza, the stinger gunner. The impact destroyed the flare dispenser, and the helo staggered under the impact. When it did, Roberts slid down the lowered ramp, with Padrazza on his heels, desperately trying to gain hold of the SEAL. Fully loaded with an eighty-pound ruck, combat gear, and an M249 SAW machine gun, Roberts weighed in excess of three hundred pounds. The two men managed to grab hold of each other as they tumbled toward the opening a few feet away.

Madden lunged for the two men. As they slid past, Roberts's legs flipped into the air. Still attached to the ramp by his gunner's harness, Madden grabbed on to the SEAL's ankle, only to be dragged along until he snapped to a violent stop at the end of his harness tether. Roberts slid past him, flailing as he approached the void. Madden and Padrazza briefly suspended the SEAL by the ankle above the snowy slope.

In an instant, he was gone.

Meanwhile, the helicopter picked up momentum as Mack battled to save all their lives, oblivious to what had just happened behind him. Madden watched helplessly as Roberts dropped ten feet to the snow, slamming onto his back, and receded into the night as the helicopter limped away.

Before Madden could call "lost man," the grim situation became even worse. One of the crew came on the intercom—they'd lost an engine. Mack, unaware they'd also lost the SEAL, knew they did not have single-engine capability, and he also had no way to determine which engine was out from his dead instrument control panel. The best he could do was to autorotate (land without power, essentially a controlled crash) somewhere in front of them and at the base of the hostile mountain. As Mack was working through the challenges of power, glide slope, a landing spot, and no instruments, Madden was pulling in Padrazza, who was dangling from the ramp and swinging wildly by his gunner's strap. On the intercom Madden shouted, "Both engines are running!" several times. He could hear them directly above his head at the aircraft's rear.

Mack wasted no time "pulling power" to determine the truth and was rewarded with level flight, which verified the intercom call. He now had options, but the helicopter soon began shaking and the controls fought the pilot, making them feel "heavy" in Mack's hands. He knew he needed to get the helo on the ground immediately.

He turned north, the direction from which they'd come, looking for a place to set down, when the call came from the rear that they'd lost a man and he was somewhere on the HLZ. Fuck. "Are you sure?" he asked. By this time Madden had dragged his crewmate into the helicopter, and both responded on the intercom simultaneously with "Yes!"

Mack was determined. "We're going back to get him," he announced over the intercom. Every crewman agreed with the decision, but the gunners reminded him they had no weapons. Mack asked for a test fire, but the guns were dead.

He began a right-hand turn anyway to come around and head back into the one-sided onslaught and firefight that surely awaited them. But as he did, the controls continued fighting back. Then the collective stick went dead and no amount of wrestling could move it. His helicopter, stricken and blind, was coming apart around him and falling from the sky. Returning to the HLZ was impossible. There was little hope for Roberts as the Night Stalker limped off the mountain and into the blackness beyond.

In the rear, Chapman held tight to his cargo net seat as it lurched and shook like the inside of a VW Beetle in a hurricane, powerless at that moment to affect Roberts's fate or his own. He had no idea what awaited Roberts alone on the mountain now seen receding into the night through the cargo ramp opening. Within minutes the HLZ was lost among the dozens of nondescript peaks surrounding the Shahi Khot Valley. It is impossible to say if Chapman understood his SEAL teammate's future at the hands of dozens of hardened Chechen and Uzbek fighters. He certainly had no inkling that in another two hours he and Roberts would face exactly the same situation, their destinies separated by a half dozen steps, each a lone man fighting against many.

If there was one among the seven-man team who could possibly survive alone in hostile territory against insurmountable enemy numbers, it would be Chapman, the lone Combat Controller—the only man with the overwhelming firepower of America's entire fleet of aircraft and death at his fingertips, and the expertise to wield them as either a precision strike on an individual or a crushing tsunami of tens of thousands of pounds of bombs over any mountain or massed force.

John did not know in that moment, in the rear of the darkened helicopter, that he was destined to soon save the lives of the remaining members of his SEAL team and another eighteen men who would ultimately commit their lives to rescuing John and the SEALs. How John came to be that man and hero on the frozen summit of Takur Ghar mountain is a remarkable and unique story about a force so unknown in American military history as to be invisible: US Air Force Combat Control. John would not be the only Combat Controller on Takur Ghar or the mountains surrounding it. Indeed, hidden in the folds of the US and allied special operations forces who were prosecuting Operation Anaconda, which was designed to push the Taliban to the brink of extinction and of which John's team was but a small part, were more than a dozen of these unknown warriors.

In the history of human warfare, no single individual warrior has ever possessed so much precision power over life and death. This is the story of John Chapman and his brothers, the deadliest fighters ever to have walked the fields of battle.

Part I


Chapter 1

The flight of four fighters screamed over the mountain peaks toward their intended target, shadows streaking across the intervening valleys. One of the pilots, Lieutenant Ed Rasimus, knew troops were in trouble because his flight—call sign Whiplash Bravo—had been scrambled to provide close air support to a forward air control Combat Controller. From his cockpit, Ed could tell it was going to be a tough airstrike. Whiplash Bravo was flying deep into "Indian territory" and knew it. Below him, the local religion was not Islam but animism with a strong dose of the Buddha. It was the summer of 1966 and all Ed could see was the lush jungle of Laos in every direction, the oppressive heat and humidity creating their own clouds, clinging to the landscape like gray quilts and further masking terrain and potential enemy antiaircraft positions. It was not a good place to be.

One of Ed's wingmen tried the Controller (call sign Butterfly-44), a disembodied voice that would direct their airstrikes. Nothing. They were closing in fast, just forty miles from the contact point, when a weak and out-of-breath transmission floated across the airwaves: "Hello, Whiplash. This is Butterfly Forty-Four, do you copy?"

Finally. "Roger, Butterfly. We've got four nickels [F-105s] for you with twenty-four cans of nape and twenty mike-mike [20mm cannons]. We'll play for about twenty minutes and we're now about forty miles out."

Combat Controller Jim Stanford, Butterfly-44, wasn't airborne. The twenty-nine-year-old eleven-year Air Force veteran continued breathlessly, "Thanks, Whiplash, copy your numbers. I'm on the ground now refueling. I'm standing on the wing pumping gas in the airplane, but I should be airborne in about three more minutes. The target isn't very far away."

In his F-105 cockpit, Ed had to process this information. Butterfly-44 is on the ground? Refueling his own airplane? In enemy territory? While out of breath, the disembodied voice didn't sound overly concerned. The 105s established an orbit and awaited instructions.

"Whiplash, Butterfly Forty-Four's on the roll. Be with you in a minute. Are you ready for a briefing?" asked Stanford as his tiny unarmed and unarmored Pilatus Porter single-engine airplane took off from the dirt strip where he and his pilot had been forced to land alone and refuel their plane. It was a little after 1600 hours, and for Jim and his pilot, a CIA employee flying under the cover of Air America, landing on a short dirt space in the jungle was just another day in America's secret and illegal war in Laos, across the Mekong River from Thailand. And these were not even their first strikes of the day.

"Roger, Butterfly, go ahead." Ed, who had assumed the Controller would have come from Thailand like himself by sneaking across the border, assessed the man behind the voice. If I'm stealing hubcaps by sneaking into Laos illegally, he thought, this guy is a full-fledged car thief. It was going to be a difficult strike with the thick puffy clouds obscuring much of the ground.

"Okay, Whiplash. We've got a valley three miles north of my [location] with an estimated fifteen hundred Pathet Lao regulars [Laotians fighting against South Vietnam and the US]. I've got about two hundred Royal Laotians on the hilltops to the south. I need you to put your napalm in the valley and we'll try and spread it around. Can you give me multiple passes dropping [in] pairs?"

"We'll be happy to do that, Butterfly." Ed revised his estimate of Butterfly-44. He's not stealing cars or hubcaps. He's apparently running an entire mafia.

"Whiplash, Butterfly Forty-Four has you in sight. If you check your ten o'clock low, you should be able to pick me up. I've got a white Pilatus Porter, and I'm level at six thousand feet in a left-hand orbit. Defenses in this area are small arms and automatic weapons with reported twenty-three and thirty-seven millimeter coming out of the valley earlier today. I'd like you to work the valley from east to west and come off south. The friendlies are on the hilltops to the south. Call visual on me."

"Okay, Butterfly. Whiplash lead has you in sight."

"Whiplash, I'm afraid I can't mark for you. The ROEs [rules of engagement] don't allow me to carry ordnance. But if you've got me in sight, I'll point out the target area with my left wingtip."

Ed Rasimus watched from 14,000 feet as the tiny white plane, so obvious and exposed against the green jungle, dipped its wingtip to indicate an area of trees.

The lead F-105 confirmed the target and called, "In from the east."

"Cleared hot, Whiplash. I'm holding off to the north."

Rasimus recalled the lead aircraft clearly. "I can see the shiny aluminum napalm cans leave his airplane. The fins keep them aerodynamically straight so they don't tumble and smear, but the fireball in the jungle is still impressive."

From his slow-moving, glaring target of an airplane, Stanford called, "Nice hit, lead. Two, put yours just west of lead's smoke. Three, step it further west, and four, finish off the end of the valley. Two's cleared hot."

The F-105s continued to napalm the Pathet Lao until they ran out of "nape," then requested permission to conduct gun runs with their 20mm cannons. When the fighters finally went "bingo"—out of fuel—and departed the little valley near the Plaine des Jarres, Stanford sent them off with gratitude. "Thanks a lot, guys. I'll forward some BDA [battle damage assessment] when our guys walk through there tomorrow, but right now all I can say is thank you. You've saved the fort again for another night."

As Rasimus headed for the border and safety of Thailand, he thought, I can't imagine his situation. I can't conceive being in the jungle with a tiny airplane and a hugely outnumbered ground force. I can't believe that he lives there and controls an air war in which he isn't allowed to shoot back. As I cruise back to my safe airbase with my air-conditioned room, white sheets, hot shower, and a cold beer at the officers' club, I wonder what kind of man is this. I hope Butterfly-44 has a good night. I hope he has many good nights. He earns them.

Stanford and his pilot also turned for home: the most secret airbase in the world, known as Lima Site 36 alternate. Referred to by them simply as "Alternate," it's a dirt airstrip built and operated by the CIA in the middle of the jungle. For Jim, most days ended around 1730 after a full day of airstrikes, rescue coordination, and other support to the Lao indigenous forces commanded by the legendary General Vang Pao. "When the sun went down, our day in the air was done. We would meet with General Vang Pao and then go up to the Air America porch, sit around and talk, have a few drinks, play with the dogs or the caged bears."

The talk usually focused on which Air America pilots would fly the Combat Controller the next day, a nightly decision with potentially grave consequences. Two CCT had already been shot down with their pilots and, though both men were designated as missing in action, were presumed dead. Never more than four in-country at a time, the CCT in Laos of 1965–67 ran the entire air war's targeting, and no one had ever even heard of them.

*  *  *

As Stanford enjoyed his well-deserved beer in Laos, on the far side of the globe in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and a world away from America's latest war, Gene and Terry Chapman were busy rearing their third child, John Allan Chapman, born 14 July 1965. The town itself is something of a Norman Rockwell throwback, stereotypically New England. Mature hardwood trees—elm, oak, and maple—thrive along its narrow streets, offering shade on hot summer days and creating canopies bursting with the colors of fire when the brisk days of fall arrive. Windsor Locks was a community where you really did ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar, the neighborhood kids played outside together, and adults looked out for all kids, not just their own. John came from humble beginnings, and it was an ideal world for the newest family member.

As John explored Windsor Locks through the eyes of childhood and his youth, no one in the Chapman home could possibly imagine the direct line that would lead from America's secret war in Laos to their son becoming one of the most elite warriors in history.

*  *  *

Before Vietnam became a household word in the American lexicon, Combat Control Teams had existed for over a decade, and to fully understand them it's necessary to return to the global inferno of World War II, where they were originally formed to spearhead invasions on the heels of the disasters that marked the early attempts at airborne operations.


  • "The men who wear the Medal of Honor do so on behalf of all Americans-past, present, and future-who serve their country. I'm certain that if John Chapman had survived the events that led to his Medal, he would be uncomfortable with being singled out as a hero. But the fact is, that day he saved many lives at the cost of his own, and dozens of families owe the safe return of their loved ones to him. Every American should know this story. Thanks to Alone at Dawn, the first comprehensive account of his one man stand in Afghanistan, we have a chance to celebrate John Chapman's life and the courageous work of his fellow Air Force Combat Controllers."—ClintonRomesha, Medal of Honor recipient and New York Times bestselling author of Red Platoon
  • "Alone at Dawn is a stunning portrayal of a true American hero, from an unknown unit of unsung acclaim, and consisting of unassuming patriots. John Chapman, Medal of Honor recipient, exemplifies all the traits of the most decorated wing in the U.S. Air Force."—Lt.Gen. Kurt A. Cichowski, USAF (Ret), former Assistant Director, CIA
  • "A blend of military history, wartime drama, and the incredible true story of Sergeant John Chapman-the first Air Force Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War-Alone at Dawn delivers blood-pumping action, heart-warming kindness, and an insider account of the most courageous individuals on the planet. Dan Schilling makes epic military heroism come alive and reminds us what true purpose is all about; and Lori Longfritz, John's sister, offers a poignant perspective on her brother's life, which was extraordinary long before his heroic one-man stand."—DeborahLee James, 23rd secretary of the US Air Force
  • "Alone at Dawn is riveting and powerful. This stunning account reveals for the first time one of the most extraordinary acts of valor and courage in the annals of U.S. history. With this book, USAF CCT John Chapman now rightfully takes his place as an iconic hero of the Afghanistan War. All Americans should honor and enshrine the memory of such undaunted self-sacrifice and valor."—Lt.Col. Dave Grossman, USA (Ret.), author of On Killing, On Combat, and AssassinationGeneration
  • "A long-overdue account not just of one hero but an entire force of heroes. Documenting Chapman's final mission, Schilling and Longfritz recreate the blood-soaked, desperate battle in all its dramatic detail, then fearlessly delineate the most terrible choice combat can demand. It's a story that will upset some and inspire many, but will leave no reader unchanged."—Jim DeFelice, coauthor of the #1 NewYork Times bestselling American Sniper
  • "Alone at Dawn is inspired by the life and heroism of Medal of Honor recipient John Chapman. The genius of the book is that readers will also learn what a Combat Controller does, and why every team of Delta, SEALS, and Green Berets want their Air Force Special Tactics professionals with them whenever they engage in battle. The men on Takur Ghar, where seven Americans were killed in action in service to their country, were doomed by classic examples of senior military incompetence and inter-service rivalry. That terrible tragedy will never diminish the bravery of those who fought on and above the mountain in March of 2002, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, especially MSgt John Chapman, USAF."—James G. Roche, 20th secretary of theAir Force
  • "A brave book about a brave warrior and the long overdue acknowledgment of the history and the contributions made by the men of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron (aka Air Force Combat Controllers)."—Pete Blaber, former commander Delta Force and author of The Mission, The Men, and Me
  • "This is a story of heroism of not only of one man, John Chapman, but a heroic breed of American warriors-Air Force Combat Controllers. It is a gripping account of Chapman's last moments and pays homage to a brotherhood dedicated to keep America safe and free."—Dr. Robert Kadlec,Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response, Former Deputy StaffDirector, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Special Assistant toPresident George W. Bush
  • "As one of our nation's most elite special operations forces, Combat Controllers not only jump, dive, shoot, and maneuver with the best, they uniquely combine these skills with absolute mastery of three-dimensional battlespace to deliver lethal and precision airpower, making them the deadliest force on any battlefield. Among even this exceptional and select brotherhood, John Chapman's heroism on Takur Ghar is without equal in America's longest war."—LtGen Donny Wurster, USAF (ret), former commander, Air Force Special OperationsCommand
  • "The men who serve in Combat Control whose incredible story is presented in this book aren't asking for recognition. No late night talk show, video game or film could possibly begin to convey the intensity of the experience, the fear, the sense of duty and valor, the bonds that unite these men and, above all, the inner feelings and motivation of someone who has stepped up and accepted the challenge of this toughest of Missions."—Jeffrey"Skunk" Baxter, musician, national security specialist
  • "In this informative and sometimes moving account, author and military veteran Schilling and Longfritz pay tribute to Longfritz's brother, Medal of Honor winner John Chapman . . . The pacing heightens the tale's immediacy, and reconstruction of Chapman's inner experience packs an emotional punch. This paean to heroism will strike a chord with fans of combat narratives."—Publishers Weekly
  • "This is an excellent book about a modern-day hero in a military field that rarely makes the front page."—Booklist

On Sale
Jun 23, 2020
Page Count
352 pages

Dan Schilling

About the Author

In his thirty years in special operations Dan Schilling conducted combat and clandestine missions around the world, founded and then commanded two special operations squadrons—the second one of America's most clandestine special mission units—and worked alongside the CIA, FBI, and NSA to defeat terrorists as well as biological and nuclear weapons proliferation. An adrenaline enthusiast, Schilling is a professional demonstration skydiver, holds the Guinness World Record for most BASE jumps in twenty-four hours, and is a mountain speedwing pilot.  For more information on his projects, visit him at

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