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Disabled Air Force Special Ops Pararescue Veteran Donovan Chapman Makes Musical Comeback By Giving Back

Photo credit: Heather Kindall

Singer songwriter Donovan Chapman will leave you wanting for more. This laid back North Louisiana native reaches into his arsonal of true life stories  and takes you along for the ride. Chapman hopes that sharing his world through music will help others just as his first single “Highway Patrolman,” off his new album Brotherhood doesChapman, who is a one-hundred percent disabled combat veteran of the Air Force Pararescue, wrote “Highway Patrolman” in honor of the dedicated work of the Texas Highway Patrol. He wants to bring awareness to the service and support that the Texas Highway Patrol provides for the border and the sacrifices that the troopers make everyday to protect the community and country.  Fifty percent of the royalties from the single are being donated to the That Others May Rise organization. This donation is going specifically for a child with cerebral palsy who is in dire need of a wheelchair access van. That Others May Rise is a globally recognized foundation that focuses on individuals rising above poverty, having responsibility, accountability and respect. One-hundred percent of the donations they receive go to helping those in need.  Administration fees are paid for by the founders and no administrative persons, directors or founders are paid. Take a look at the amazing work that they do www.thatothersmayraise.org/takeaction

   While I interviewed Chapman, one thing was very obvious, this musician’s goal is to heal others with his music. Chapman wants to reach out and extend a helping hand to any others who are in need, he knows firsthand the pain and silent suffering of combat veterans. Chapman wants veterans to know if he can get through it, they can do it too. Chapman is the founder of Special Operations Veterans Class of Freedom Sings USA, a non-profit organization based in Chattanooga that pairs professional songwriters with veterans, active duty military and their families. Through songwriting, they get the chance to tell their story leading them to healing and emotional balance. Take a look at the wonderful work they do. www.freedomsingsusa.org 

I had the honor to interview Donovan Chapman in person during CRS (Country Radio Seminar) week in Nashville. We shared some laughs as we walked the entire building looking for a quiet spot to have our interview. We chatted about life and the world we are living in along the way.  I realized that once you meet Donovan Chapman you have a new friend.

Chapman’s new album Brotherhood features 12 tracks that all have Chapman as writer or co-writer. Each song tells its own story of Chapman’s life and his journey to overcome the obstacles he has faced. The album is produced by Buddy Hyatt and recorded at Hilltop Studios and Music City Trax in Nashville.

CN: Tell us about yourself, give us some background on Donovan Chapman.

DC: I was raised in the backwoods of Louisiana by Farmerville.  I graduated highschool in 1992 and three days later I went in and joined the Air Force. I went in as a Security Policeman, I did that for four years then I went into cross-training in the Air Force Special Operations Command’s Pararescueman, otherwise known as “PJs.”  I was in the PJs for seven years until I was injured from numerous deployments and all the jumping and diving that we do. I did my last tour and came home with a full beard and long hair and I signed a seven album deal with Curb Records about two weeks after leaving combat.  Mike Curb,  the head of Curb Records, told me if I get back from the last tour he would have a seven album publishing deal waiting for me. I wish he would not have said that, it was the tour I almost didn’t come back from. I got back and went with Curb, I had some success with them, I had three top 60 songs on the Billboard major, then I switched to another record label called Category 5 Records.  I finally got to the point of falling apart physically and mentally, it was unchecked PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Combined with combat injuries from spinal and nerve surgeries I had to have, that’s when life really hit me, that’s when my life truly changed.  The true big change was when I had to fall and surrender and go get help. 

CN: For the music, were you always writing and doing music when you were in the military, how did you end up with a music deal when you left the military?

DC: I was always singing in church growing up and I played the ukulele. I am half Hawaiian and half Cajun, so kind of a wild mix. I never really took it seriously as a kid, I never had any lessons, I was never out performing in front of people. I picked the guitar back up in the last four years in the military. I was having jam sessions on weekends with buddies singing cover songs. Then 9/11 happened and we started losing a lot of rescue men to operations in Afghanistan. It was the wild, wild west over there at that time in the first years of the invasion. I started sitting down with my guitar writing, that’s how I processed my emotions. That’s when the writing side started for me.  By the time we got to that last tour I had a catalog of music that Mike (Curb) got a hold of. It’s hard for me to listen to now, I have grown a lot since then.  I just felt the healing through the music. I feel I can help others through my music. Like my album Brotherhood, which is an inspiration, a humanitarian album, it’s an album about real life. 

Photo credit:  Heather Kindall 

CN: You are involved with some very special foundations, tell us about them.

DC: I am involved with Freedom Sings USA, I am the class leader and songwriter for The Special Operations Veterans Class, we have an album coming out that I just wrote and produced. Mr. Don Goodman backs me up in the class and he’s also the co-founder of Freedom Sings. I have a lot of good support to do that class. I also work with That Others May Rise, it’s an organization from a former pararescueman who was at The Pentagon.  He was in charge of the Air Force  pararescuemen under the Chief Of Staff Secretary of the Air Force. He saw it happen, and he set up the organization called That Others May Rise. There is a Texas Highway patrolman named Johnny, he is barely getting by.  He has a son with cerebral palsy and he can’t go anywhere with him because they don’t have a van to put him in, and I thought, “How sad is this they can’t even take him out to go get something to eat?”  He couldn’t get him into a vehicle with ramps and strap downs, so I said to him, “How much do you need?” He said “About $70,000.”  I said, “We’ll sit down and we’ll talk.”  I sat down with him at a non-profit show and I wrote the song in about two hours. I came back to Nashville and recorded it and it’s the first single. I felt law enforcement needs support. People need to know the struggle, they are working 20 to 30 days in a row and working 12 hour days.  When our lives are hard there are people out there that are having a hard time working long days with no days off. Half of my publishing from the song goes to help Johnny. We set up an account so we can help him with his cerebral palsy son. My new single “Highway Patrolman” was written with counsel from Texas Highway Patrol.

CN: You have a history of family members being policemen, did you ever want to be a policeman? You went in a different direction although the same idea of dedicating your life to help others.

DC: Just the first four years of my military career I was a policeman. I wanted to take it a step higher to Special Operations. Going from security policeman in the military to Air Force Operations Special Rescue is like going from the eighth grade to the military. It is such a transition of knowledge and ability. You’re free falling, you’re scuba diving, you’re mountain climbing.  You’re snow skiing, you’re doctor-trained for trauma, you do person-to-person blood transfusions in the field, from our bodies as the medic to the soldiers, special forces or civilians. My great-granddaddys on both sides served in World War I.  My grandfathers on both sides served in World War II.  My granddaddy lost his leg in World War I and broke 4,000 acres with a mule and a plow with a peg leg. My dad served in Vietnam, he was shot twice.  My brother is a Louisiana State Trooper, he served in Afghanistan. I served in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Uzbekistan. 

CN: Do you have any family members who have not served in the military? You all are in very specific and very difficult roles as well, no one sounds like they had an easy safe job.  Is this just how you all roll?

DC: We push the limits. You have to push the limits. With that being said, my dad always said, “Chapmans will take care of Chapmans,” but we will also push the lines. I knew I had the ability to test myself. As a cop I knew I could physically go higher than that. To go to Special Operations you have to step up and swim 3,000 meters without stopping, you have to do multiple underwater up to 50 meters with one breath hold while wearing equipment, you have to do so many sit ups, pull ups. It takes a superhuman body to do all that but what it really comes down to is a super human mind to be able to do all that. I think with me and my native Hawaiian culture, and my spirituality that was fueling my mind and my spirit that I can do this and I can get through this. I never thought about quitting. There is a 98 percent fail rate in pararescue, it started with 137 men and 12 of us graduated. 

CN: It’s insane, anyone who ever talks about what you have accomplished is always dumbfounded that people can actually accomplish what you have. Do you find you have the same drive going into the music?  I can tell you are not stopping until you get Johnny’s son a van.

DC: The best I can, the one thing I have to do is be aware of my mental health, my physical ability and now. I can live in the past as a former PJ, yeah, I can do that charge. If I do that I will be living in my past. I have to live in the today and now and into the future. I am injured and suffer from PTSD, I am a 100 percent disabled veteran from physical and mental injuries. If I step 

Photo credit:  Heather Kindall 

out there and I see a red beret and I say,  “Yeah I am a PJ, I am going to get on out there.” If I did that, I would fall on my face. It’s a good question that you asked.  After the rehab, I am not on any medications now, besides high blood pressure (laughs), I have been cognizant of myself spiritually, physically and mentally and what my capabilities are and what my limitations are now. That way the first step to healing and knowledge is awareness of oneself in the now. I work with a lot of organizations that help coaching and teaching of living in the awareness that now is a major step towards the recovery of PTSD. Towards recovery from a victimized mentality. A lot of people do not want to hear that, a lot of people feel that they are true victims, I say that there are a lot of them out there. I try to help people without ever getting in front of them and getting involved. My biggest deal with my music is that I want to charge hard and I want to see people healing and help people. This is a humanitarian album. I am stepping forward with the power of the Creator behind me with true manifestation always checking and surrendering my daily self to a higher power.  I am going to die some day, I almost died several times.  I weigh 205 pounds now, two-and-a-half years ago I was found weighing 165 in the woods out of my mind. I was on 13 different VA meds after several surgeries. PTSD paranoid and just gone. I was 12 hours from dying from Type 2 diabetes and almost going into a coma. Luckily, my pararescue foundation  spent $30,000 to send me to a rehab. They jumped the VA and said, “You’re done, you are killing him.” I am so thankful for that. Who am I now because of that? What was I not, not in tune.  I was running around trying to catch lightning in a bottle to try to be famous, to be successful, to make myself proud, to make my family proud, but I was not dealing with myself. Fame has nothing to do with it. I feel manifestation can happen spiritually and music can affect people. It might just be 25 people who that song gets to and helps heal, so be it. 

CN: Here we are talking, and one thing that is very obvious is that  you really seem focused on helping others both financially and mentally.  You have not mentioned playing on a huge stage, all you really have mentioned is how you can turn your music and success into helping others. You really want to shine a bright light on everyone else but yourself. 

DC: When I was in rehab, I met a lot of civilians. This was the number one rehab in the country to help people with all sorts of problems. I am in there with normal, regular people, everybody’s pain is real, everyone is hurting. Everyone will hit a low time and be tested in their life at some point.  If you don’t think you will, then you are wrong. The ones who get tested and fail, it’s so sad. A lot of times it’s drug abuse, incarceration and then it’s suicide. That’s where I want to help, so it’s not a permanent level of incarceration or they are hurting themselves or hurting others, transferring dysfunction and destroying the communication with their wives. I talk about being military at one time, being in rehab I had to go through the identity ego dip. I basically died down there, that Donovan is dead. But I can reflect on that Donovan and understand who I was at the time and it wasn’t me and now. If I am going to live in that ego and that image of that identity, then I am not able to calculate what I am capable of and what I can do now.  Everyone’s pain is real, everybody on this earth matters. We are all humans and we are capable of love to the highest ability, created in God’s image. What are we doing? We have got to stand for something. Universal love and surrender, it’s the most beautiful thing that has happened to me, going to rehab, the most beautiful thing.

CN: When did you go?

DC: December 2019 until February 2020, I was almost dead in the woods. I was 169 pounds and an embarrassment to myself. 

CN: Are you in touch with people you met in rehab? 

DC: Oh yeah, the pararescue foundation, like The Navy SEAL Foundation and The Green Berets Foundation, I am their poster child for the foundation. I told them that they have free reign to use my story for grants and money. To use the money to pay for the fallen’s children’s education, for funerals for the families and we also have a lot of operators out there that the VA is not prepared to deal with. They are so sick and using drugs to self medicate to turn the pain off and numb out. We don’t heal people, people heal themselves. 

CN: Is there another group that you see a lack of help for that you would like to help in the future?

DC: Our target market of people is our military, active or veterans and their families. The friends of the families of veterans and it keeps expanding. Through that expanding loop you just keep gathering connections of people to veterans that the message of love and not of hate and anger and fear. It is about acceptance and recovery to destigmatize rehabilitation and therapy and creating better communications. I want to help my people, such as my Hawaiian culture. One day I want to give back as a native Hawaiian. I was raised in Louisiana with Cajun roots. We have a projected path for my future albums.  My next album will pull from my Cajun blues, it’s going to be really funky. Then we are going to grow and introduce people to my other cultures, we are going into some of the Hawaiian stuff. It will take people on a ride, that’s what music is supposed to do.

CN: I love introducing people into new sounds and new genres of music. 

DC: That’s right, if they don t know about it how are they going to find out about it.  I am just doing what I feel I am supposed to be doing. I am happy whether I have a song on the charts or not. As long as we are out doing right by the veterans, and my wife and I are out enjoying our lives and are happy with each day. As long as we can continue helping people then I am happy. 

CN: How far along are you on you for buying the van for Johnny’s son?

DC: We have to wait for the royalty checks to start coming in for that, that will come in June or July.

CN: Have you been in touch with Johnny?

DC: Oh, every day.  Johnny and I talk every day. 

CN: I have the final question, it’s called “One Grab.” The scenario is this, you have to run out of your house.  You are safe, your family and pets are all safe. You can run into the house to grab one thing. What do you grab? I can’t wait to hear what you say.

DC:  If my family is safe with me then I have everything I need. If I had to run in to get one thing, I would grab my beret that I was issued after two years of training. I would want to make sure that’s with me, it was an achievement. 

CN: An achievement is an understatement, well-earned!  Donovan, thank you so much, I really appreciate your time, it was great talking with you.

DC: Thank you, it was awesome interviewing with you. 

Keep current with Donovan Chapman on his website http://donovanchapman.com.

For more information, please visit http://thatothersmayrise.org.


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