Family of first soldier killed in Afghan war reflects 10 years later

Tacoma News Tribune.October 7, 2011 

Nearly 1,800 U.S. military members have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began there 10 years ago, enough to form a single-file rank of soldiers a mile long.

At the head of that line – the first U.S. casualty in the war – is a Fort Lewis Special Forces sergeant whose wife and two children continue to live in the Puyallup area.

Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman was 31 when he was shot to death Jan. 4, 2002, in an ambush near Khost, not far from the Pakistan border.

He was part of the 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis, working in Afghanistan as a communications specialist with the 5th Special Forces Group from Fort Campbell, Ky.

Army officials said Chapman was among a small group of Americans trying to enlist local tribal leaders in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The fact that Chapman was the first to die in the war put him and his family in an odd and sometimes uncomfortably public position.

“The first soldier kind of represents the rest,” Will Chapman, Nathan’s father, said Thursday from the family home in Georgetown, Texas.

When he was killed, Nathan Chapman lived in South Hill with his wife, Renae, and their two children, 2-year-old Amanda and 1-year-old Brandon.

Renae, whom Will Chapman described as “a very private person,” has avoided publicity and, for the most part, the media have respected her wishes.

Will Chapman, a 21-year Air Force veteran, continues to speak for the family.

The 10 years of the war, he said Thursday, seems like a very long time.

He expressed no anger about his son’s death, and said he continues to support the military and its mission in Afghanistan.

“We’ve lost a lot of men since Nathan,” Chapman said. “This country has paid a high price. But I wonder what kind of price we would have had to pay if we had not done something to remove those people.

“I suspect that, left unchallenged, they would have done more damage than they were able to do.”

Chapman said he and his wife continue to believe the mission in Afghanistan has been worthwhile, and he said they have been heartened by recent U.S. successes.

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