Sullivan Recognizes Andrew Chapoton as “Alaskan of the Week”
WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class Andrew Chapoton, a soldier with the Army’s 11th Airborne Division based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), who received the U.S. Army Soldier’s Medal—the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of heroism in a non-combat situation. In May 2022, Sergeant Chapoton sprung into action and risked his own life to save three individuals caught in a fiery car wreck on the Seward Highway. Chapoton cited his 18 years of training and experience in the Army as instrumental in being able to respond effectively to the crisis. Chapoton was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”
Tribute to Sergeant First Class Andrew Chapoton
Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer for that heartfelt welcome here on the Senate floor.
I know the Presiding Officer is excited, and I know the pages are excited. Heck, half of America is excited because, once again, it is Thursday afternoon, and I am back on the floor giving probably my favorite speech of the week, the “Alaskan of the Week.” As many of you know, it is an opportunity for me as I love to come down to the Senate floor and brag about somebody in my State who makes it such a great State. Usually, it is somebody who is doing something good for their local community, maybe for the State, maybe for the country, maybe for the world.
Boy, we have had so many famous Alaskans of the Week, but this one--this one, my colleagues--is really special. It is about real special heroism that we see in Alaska a lot. It is about a young man named Andrew Chapoton. I am going to talk a lot about Andrew--he is an Army soldier up in Alaska--and how his bravery and heroism saved some lives in a way that is just remarkable. But I always like to begin my speech by talking a little bit about what is going on in Alaska.
I try to get home with Julie, my wife.
She is up in the Gallery. Am I allowed to do that? I am doing it anyway.
Anyway, pretty much every weekend we have been home. Boy, over the last couple of weekends, I was out on an epic--epic--Kodiak hunting trip. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partake in one of our State's most cherished traditions. It was an experience I won't forget. I will never forget it.
Kristin Wilson, if you are watching, I know you love bears, and I love bears too. She is a big fan of the “Alaskan of the Week.”
But I also like to talk about what is going on with the weather.
It is still pretty cold in a lot of places, but the Sun is higher in the sky. It is actually getting really high. The days are getting longer and longer. Today, in Anchorage, the Sun rose at 5:30 a.m., and it will set tonight at around 10:30 p.m., gaining more than 5 minutes since yesterday. So sunlight is really increasing rapidly. Birds are migrating by the tens of thousands. The excitement of spring is in the air. Winter is finally retreating. We love winter in Alaska, but, boy, we had a long, cold winter in most places.
So, if you are watching, by the way, in the Gallery or on TV, come up to Alaska. It will be the trip of a lifetime. I guarantee you it will be the trip of a lifetime.
Now let's get to our Alaskan of the Week, SFC Andrew Chapoton, and the heroic actions he took last May--about a year ago--that earned him the U.S. Army Soldier's Medal. That is the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of heroism in a noncombat situation.
Andrew was born and raised in the township of Clinton, MI, but he knew that he was always going to join the military. Being in the military, from his perspective and his family's perspective, was a good, honorable thing to do. Of course, he is right. His father fought in Vietnam, and his grandfather fought in World War II. Both of his sisters are in the Army. So he enlisted when he got out of high school and did a number of deployments--three tours to Iraq, a deployment to Haiti--and then was stationed in Alaska from 2015 to 2018 as part of the 4th Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. It is what we call in Alaska the 4-25. I am a marine, but the 4-25 sure is one of my favorite units in the entire U.S. military, but that is a story for another day. I love the 4-25.
Andrew and his wife love Alaska--the hiking, the camping. He said:
“Everything [is] available right outside my front door.”
So they were determined to come back to Alaska. They bought a house in beautiful Eagle River, outside of Anchorage. They did come back. In 2021, he came back to Alaska where we now have the storied U.S. 11th Airborne Division. A lot of people don't know that. We stood up an airborne division in Alaska just last year, so now we have the 82nd Airborne Division on the east coast and the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska. Andrew and his wife, now with two children and another one on the way, love Alaska.
So what did Andrew do to win the Army Soldier's Medal? Here is how the Army described it in the summary of that medal:
“Sergeant First Class Andrew Chapoton voluntarily risked his own life in the heroic pursuit of saving others at a deadly car wreck near Seward, Alaska. His extraordinary act of valor exemplified the highest standards of selfless service and character as he repeatedly put himself in mortal danger to save others trapped in a horrific . . . car wreck. SFC Chapoton dived into the burning vehicles again and again to save three trapped occupants, without [any] regard for his own life [or his own safety].”
So that is the summary.
Here is the longer version of why this great American, great Alaskan, is today's Alaskan of the Week.
Last May, Andrew and his wife had an out-of-town visitor who wanted to go whale watching. OK. That is something we do in Alaska. It is amazing. It is a great thing to do in our State. So one of the great places to whale watch is out of Seward, which is a few hours south of Anchorage. He almost didn't go as he had done that tour often, but in his words, he caved and said: Let's go do it.
So they all went. Their friend, his spouse, and their two kids got in the car and headed to Seward. They had a great time. By the way, it is another great thing to do in Alaska--whale watching. They saw a lot of whales, and they were celebrating the trip on the way back.
Then something tragic--horrible--happened. On the Seward Highway, two cars collided--a Jeep and a Dodge Dakota--almost right in front of his car. He had to swerve to miss them. It was a nasty, horrible crash. Debris went flying; smoke was billowing from both cars; and gasoline was dripping out of these cars. But Andrew didn't continue to drive. He pulled over on the shoulder, jumped out of his car, and without thinking, in his words, “as cliche and corny as it sounds, 18 years of training kicked in, and I ran toward the scene of the accident.” That is what Andrew said. As a result, he saved the lives literally of three people.
Now, he doesn't even have a memory of how he got from his car to the accident--training, bravery, heroism--but he does remember approaching the first car, the Dakota. He was flagging people down and yelling for a medic. There were three people in the Dakota, but none of them were moving, and the car was bursting into flames. He tried to smash the driver's door open. He had to move the camping equipment that had fallen on the driver, and he was able to get her safely out of the car.
At this point, the car was engulfed in flames, but he went back in and got another person out of the car and to safety, which was so difficult because the car door had been smashed and crushed. Unfortunately--and we know this is hard for Andrew. I hope he is watching, by the way, and his family--he went back again but could not save the third person. The door was also crushed, and he couldn't open it. He couldn't find a pulse. He says it haunts him to this day.
But, again, Andrew's instincts and training kicked in, and he transitioned to getting the driver out of the other burning car, the burning Jeep. After he got that passenger out, he performed Combat Lifesaver triage and lifesaving medical care for these three very seriously wounded Americans.
This story of heroism doesn't end there.
Both cars, by now, had turned into raging infernos. Flaming liquid was flowing down the road and toward one of the injured passengers. With the help of another Good Samaritan, Andrew moved one of the gravely injured passengers away from the impending explosion of this car. Then he shielded her body when the car did explode. Debris and shrapnel were flying everywhere. Even after the fire department arrived, Andrew continued to take the lead in performing lifesaving medical treatment.
Eventually, a Life Flight helicopter arrived to take the seriously injured individuals to the hospital. Andrew stayed and gave his statement to the troopers. He handed his keys to his wife, got back in his car, and drove back home several miles--a couple of hours--to Anchorage. It was a quiet ride.
“I used up every single ounce of adrenalin that was in my 38-year-old body.”
His children saw much of what happened, and they are proud of their father, and Andrew is proud and so deserving to receive the Army Soldier's Medal. But he did say he would trade that in a thousand times over if only all the passengers had survived.
These are the kind of people who live in Alaska--brave, selfless, and heroic. And these are the kind of people--by the way, America--who make up our military. Not every American citizen would have done what Andrew just did. As a matter of fact, I would say most people probably wouldn't--people who risk their lives, their own lives, whether it is protecting Americans at home or people abroad, so that others could live. That is what our military members do.
This is how the Army summed up this heroic action:
“SFC Chapoton's ability to perform these heroic acts under extreme pressure while simultaneously taking control of the scene [of this horrific crash] is a testament to his [U.S.] Army values. [Fundamentally] understanding the extreme personal risk to his own life, SFC Chapoton selflessly endangered himself again and again to save American lives. He risked his own safety to help avert a catastrophic outcome. Without his selfless courage in the face of grave danger, more lives would have been lost.”
So thank you, Andrew, for your bravery, your heroism, your example, not just to your friends and family or to Alaskans but to all Americans and all veterans. Thank you for protecting our Nation. Thank you for volunteering to serve. Thank you for making your home in Alaska. Thank you for your heroic actions on that day. We want to congratulate you for being awarded the U.S. Army Soldier's Medal, one of the highest honors a soldier can achieve and, certainly, Andrew, one of the highest honors you can achieve in the U.S. Senate: being our Alaskan of the Week. Great job.
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