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Alone at Dawn by Dan Schilling and Lori Chapman-Longfritz

In honor of #MedalofHonorMonday, one of our Guest Experience team members, Brianna Jones, has added Alone at Dawn to our summer reading list. Written by Dan Schilling and Lori Chapman-Longfritz, Alone at Dawn follows the story of John Chapman, an Air Force Combat Controller and Medal of Honor recipient. Divided into three sections, this gripping story will guide you on a remarkable adventure through the inspiring heroics of Chapman’s service, detailing his unwavering bravery in the face of adversity.

The book begins with an introduction fitting to Chapman’s personality, leading in with a thrilling and immersive action scene. Opening with a suspenseful air-support mission, Schilling sets the tone for the chaotic and fast-paced nature of the later chapters. Throughout the entirety of part 1, Evolution, Schilling highlights Chapman’s ambition and his drive to take action, characteristics that appear consistently as the book progresses. This is later tied in with a brief picture of the Secret War in Laos, relating the common traits of war heroes to the often-underappreciated role of a CCT (Combat Control Team), a role that John Chapman would grow to fill.

Part 2, Anaconda, delves deeper into the extremity of conditions faced by Chapman and his team throughout Operation Anaconda in March of 2002. Operation Anaconda, a subordinate sector of Operation Enduring Freedom, was America’s first major combat operation in the Global War on Terror. The novelty of this type of operation created several communication and planning issues, and several critical pieces of information were lost in the fog of war. Its method of execution remains controversial even as we continue to learn more about the events of this seven-day battle, and critical questions remain unanswered to this day. However, we do know that three attempts were made to insert Chapman and a team of SEALs onto the top of Takur Ghar mountain to take on al-Qaeda insurgents. All three of these attempts were met with direct enemy fire, sparking a series of heroic rescue missions that resulted in the death of seven Americans, one of which was our hero, John Chapman.

When tragedy strikes, especially when it is inflicted upon a man as influential as John, those close to them experience immense emotional turmoil. The third and final section of the book, Aftermath, truly tugs on the heartstrings, detailing the saddening arrival of the notification teams tasked with informing Chapman’s wife and mother of his passing. While this must have been one of the most painful experiences of their lives, they could find solace in knowing that his story would be remembered, preserving his legacy for years to come. In the final chapters of the book, Schilling cements the impact of Chapman’s legacy by detailing the posthumous process of upgrading his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor.

A driving theme throughout Alone at Dawn is the importance of becoming willing and able to face challenges as they come, both in life and in the combat zone. The life and death of John Chapman embodied this theme every step of the way. On August 22, 2018, his resilience in the Battle of Takur (War in Afghanistan) led him to become the first Medal of Honor recipient since the end of the Vietnam War, almost 50 years prior. Somewhere amidst the dust and chaos, he recognized that he’d accrued fatal injuries. Despite knowing that he was mortally wounded, he continued to take on two dozen enemy combatants to assist the incoming rescue team. Imperfect knowledge and the fog of war clouds the judgment of many. To John, these issues were simply hurdles to be cleared. He’d faced more than his fair share of hurdles throughout his life and military training, so he knew what he had to do; face them head-on without concern for factors he couldn’t control. The end of the Global War on Terror depends on heroes like John Chapman as it continues to rage into the present day.

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, President Bush announced that “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” This announcement served as the official initiation of the War on Terror, setting the tone for global relations over the next 20 years. Diplomatic ties between the United States and the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan were immediately dissolved, and Operation Enduring Freedom (the first anti-terror operation) was commissioned. Upon discovery of Iraq’s development of WMD (weapons of mass destruction), Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched, followed by Operation New Dawn and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.