Nathan Chapman of Puyallup becomes first U.S. casualty in Afghanistan on January 4, 2002.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 6/16/2014
  • Essay 10763
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On January 4, 2002, Sergeant First Class Nathan Ross Chapman (1970-2002) of Puyallup is killed in eastern Afghanistan. He is the first U.S. casualty of enemy fire in the Afghanistan War. Sergeant First Class Chapman served in the 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis (later Joint Base Lewis-McChord). He spent most of his twelve years in service at Fort Lewis.

Sergeant First Class Chapman

Nathan Ross Chapman was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. His father was a career air force member, so the family moved from base to base. Nathan Chapman attended high school in Centerville, Ohio. He was on the Centerville wrestling team.

Chapman graduated in 1988 and then joined the army. Soon after enlisting he completed airborne training and earned the Ranger tab. He joined the 2nd Ranger Battalion and participated in the 1989 airborne assault on Panama that captured that country's leader, General Manuel Antonio Noriega (b. 1934), who was accused by the United States of drug trafficking and other crimes. Chapman next saw combat in Operation Desert Storm. Upon his return to the United States he became a Green Beret. After two years of training, he participated in Operation Uphold Democracy 1994, an intervention to remove a military regime in Haiti.

When not deployed, Chapman served most of his 12 years in the army at Fort Lewis, later Joint Base Lewis-McChord. While at Fort Lewis, he met his future wife and they married in 1997. They had two young children when Sergeant First Class Chapman was deployed to Thailand in the fall of 2001. On September 11, his team in Thailand received a telephone call from Fort Lewis describing the terrorist attacks. When U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan, he volunteered to go.

Combat in Afghanistan

Chapman was assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. When he volunteered for duty in Afghanistan, he served with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a communications and light weapons specialist.

On January 4, 2002, Chapman and a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer met with tribal leaders in the Gardez area west of Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The meeting was part of an effort to enlist tribal assistance in locating al-Qaida members. As they were leaving, the Americans came under intense automatic-weapons fire. The CIA officer was wounded and Chapman was killed in the attack. A rescue team arrived quickly and rushed the CIA officer to a hospital; he recovered from his chest wound. Sergeant Chapman was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for valor. He received national attention as the first serviceman killed by enemy fire in the Afghanistan War.

Chapman Remembered

A memorial for Chapman was held at Fort Lewis on January 16, 2002, attended by many distinguished military officials, including the commanding general of the Army Special Forces Command (Green Berets), Major General Geoffrey C. Lambert. Washington Governor Gary Locke (b. 1950) attended and expressed the state's gratitude for Chapman's service to the nation.

Several memorials honor Chapman's service and memory. In Puyallup, near the South Hill area where the Chapman family lived, the Nathan Ross Chapman Memorial Trail connecting South Hill Park with the Heritage Recreation Center, about one mile long, is named in his honor. A bronze plaque at the trail relates the story of his service and his death in Afghanistan.

At the secure Joint Base Lewis-McChord Special Forces compound is a monument to fallen soldiers in which Chapman's name is etched into the granite. Another monument there honors Special Forces officer Captain Harry G. Cramer (1926-1957), the first U.S. military casualty in the Vietnam War. The street loop in front of the Special Forces Headquarters Building is named Chapman Circle.

Sergeant First Class Chapman is buried in Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

Sources: Robin Moore, The Hunt for Bin Laden: Task Force Dagger (New York: Random House, 2003); "Fort Lewis Mourns Soldier's Death," Northwest Guardian, January 11, 2002, p. 1; "Parents Say Heroic Son Exudes Confidence," Ibid., January 11, 2002, p. A6; "Country Pauses to Remember," Ibid., January 17, 2002, p. 1.
Note: This essay was corrected on August 20, 2015, to indicate that Sergeant Chapman was born in 1970.

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