CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Cold War / Iraq
Sean M. Chapman
Cold War / Iraqi Freedom Oral History Interview
US Army, 82nd Airborne / New Jersey Army National Guard
Date: May 13, 2019
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Emilie Gray, Monmouth University Student
Retired Command Sergeant Major Sean M. Chapman was born in March 1973. He and his two brothers were raised by a single mother. When Chapman was in kindergarten, the family moved from Marlton to Trenton, New Jersey. Three members of his family served in the armed forces and that, along with his proximity to Fort Dix, fostered his early interest in joining the military. He joined the Army in 1993, but found the transition into military life, with its orders and strict rules, more difficult than he had anticipated.
Chapman went to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training. In the South, he experienced culture shock, with only a handful of fellow Northerners to share the feeling. It was at Fort Jackson that Chapman first used the advice he received from his recruiter, who had urged him to persevere and learn as much as possible. He carried that mindset, along with future advice received from his superiors, throughout his military career.
After graduation from Fort Jackson, Chapman was sent to Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, in Aberdeen, Maryland. At Aberdeen, he learned to be an electrician and mechanic. Chapman found it relatively easy to acquire the skills, while his more experienced peers encountered difficulty. On completing AIT, he moved on to jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Compared to his time at Fort Jackson, Chapman found airborne training to become a paratrooper at Fort Benning significantly more rigorous.
Chapman was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 307th Forward Support Battalion after graduating from jump school. The 307th operated in close support of the infantry battalions. The job involved working with wire harnesses and fuel pumps for the infantry. When he reached the expiration of his term of service, or ETS, he was discharged. Chapman returned to New Jersey to live with his brother; and, he took the entrance exam for post office employment. Shortly after, he met Colonel Servo of the New Jersey Army National Guard’s 150th Aviation Battalion in West Trenton. Servo offered Chapman a position as a temporary civilian technician at the 150th’s repair shop.
Chapman also joined the NJ Army National Guard’s 50th Main Support Battalion in Lawrenceville, where he spent nine months before transferring to the aviation battalion in 1996. He started in aviation as a full-time technician, and then switched to part-time once he started a job at the post office. Chapman was then offered a job in the Active Guard Reserve, or AGR, a full-time National Guard position akin to being in the regular army. As a member of the AGR, he made a transition into administrative work.
On September 11, 2001, Chapman was in his office in West Trenton. After the first plane hit the tower building, he and his co-workers watched on television as the second plane hit the second tower. The New Jersey National Guard played a key role in the transportation and relief efforts in the aftermath of 9/11. Chapman expressed a newfound appreciation for his country after witnessing everyone’s support.
In 2002, Chapman transferred to the 102nd Cavalry in Vineland, New Jersey. In Vineland, he worked as assistant personnel sergeant under Sergeant Major Sotomayor. Sgt. Major Sotomayor urged Chapman to use his GI credits to continue his education. Ten years later, in 2012, Chapman graduated with his college degree. On weekends, he worked with the 21st Civil Support Team, or CST, in Lawrenceville as a dual assignment.
In 2006, Chapman was assigned to recruiting duty, which, at the time, was a difficult job, as the Iraq War was still in progress. Despite this, he thrived in the environment; and, he even earned three separate awards for his accomplishments in his first year. In his third year, Chapman became Station Commander.
In 2009 Chapman was assigned to a newly formed unit called the 117th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, or the CSSB, out of Lawrenceville; and, he was put in charge of the S-1, or intelligence section. In 2008, he was assigned to the 117th Cavalry’s C Troop on special assignment. Chapman completed mobilization training in Texas before making the journey to the Middle East. He ended up in Kuwait, where he initially worked with Special Forces in an administration position. His duties included all personnel matters, as well as some strategic planning and HR support.
The base in Kuwait received messages through the Red Cross. It also ensured that as many soldiers as possible would get to go home for leave. Despite the long hours, Chapman felt it was worth it. Along with the messages from the Red Cross, soldiers could expect packages or letters from the Operation Yellow Ribbon Club, as well as Girl Scout cookies.
Back in New Jersey, Chapman was promoted and assigned to the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, or IBCT, in Lawrenceville. For two years, he served as Senior Personnel NCO at the brigade HQ, and as lateral first sergeant with F Company in Teaneck, New Jersey.
When Superstorm Sandy hit the state in 2012, Chapman was transferred to Riverdale. While spending a cold night there, he used his mechanical experience to turn the air conditioner in the garage into a heater to combat the brutal weather. His involvement in rescue efforts were mainly in Hoboken with the 113th Infantry. After Sandy, Chapman was promoted to Command Sergeant Major. He worked with the 118th CSSB for two years at Fort Dix in the G-1 office.
In 2017, Chapman joined the deployment to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, providing logistical support. He felt not much needed to be done, as the people there were efficient in their rescue efforts. To ensure Chapman was doing his part, he helped locate families. Once he returned from Puerto Rico, Chapman went back to work at the G-1 office full time. Shortly after his return, however, he was assigned to the 254th Training Regiment with the Regional Training Institute, or RTI, and reached his 20 years of full time National Guard service.
Having reached the highest non-commissioned officer rank of Command Sergeant Major, Chapman switched gears. He had two sons and a daughter who he wanted to spend more time with and watch them grow up, so Chapman retired from the service in January of 2019. His fellow soldiers and superiors aided in his transition into retirement.
At the time of his interview, Chapman worked with the NJ Youth Challenge Academy, a program providing education and support for at-risk youth. He believes his calling lies with helping the youth he encounters; and, he is proud of the young adults he has seen start and finish this program. A few of them even enlisted, and Chapman never misses an opportunity to promote the National Guard.