As the pre-dawn twilight crept over an Afghan mountainside, an Air Force commando named Jay huddled in the snow, listening to a distressed voice crackle over his radio, then fade away. Moments later, he says, the voice came again, breaking through the static in little more than an anguished whisper: “This is Mako Three Zero Charlie…. This is Mako Three Zero Charlie….” The same six words, over and over, each time dissipating before Jay could hear anything else.
Jay was part of an elite reconnaissance team operating behind enemy lines, and he immediately recognized the call sign and voice. They belonged to his counterpart on another team: Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman. From his hidden perch, Jay responded again and again on his powerful satellite-capable radio. But he received no reply. The voice continued for about 40 minutes, he says, like a plaintive mantra—“This is Mako Three Zero Charlie…. This is Mako Three Zero Charlie….” Then it fell silent. It wasn’t until the next evening that Jay learned Chapman had died, that he was the last American to hear him alive.
Today, some 16 years after Chapman’s tragic death, fierce disagreement over what happened on that snowy peak threatens to overshadow two Medal of Honor recommendations that—as of publication—await White House approval. The bitter dispute pits members of the Navy SEALs against Air Force special operators and Army Rangers. It has entangled numerous senior military leaders, several of whom had personal links to the desperate fight on Takur Ghar mountain.