Retired Navy SEAL to receive Medal of Honor for bold Afghanistan rescue attempt

Matt Saintsing
May 08, 2018 - 11:58 am

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A retired Navy SEAL will be awarded the Medal of Honor later this month for his courageous actions atop a mountain in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda in 2002, the White House announced.

Retired Master Chief Britt Slabinski was a senior chief when he led a reconnaissance team on a mountaintop in the early hours of March 4, 2002, as they prepared to support a massive operation against al-Qaeda.

Slabinski “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he engaged in a pitcher, close-quarters firefight against the tenacious and more heavily armed enemy forces,” according to the announcement.

Assigned to a joint task force at the time, Slabinski led his team atop a 10,000-foot mountain where his team was perched in an observation area waiting for the assault on al-Qaeda to commence. But things quickly went off script as enemy fighters, many hidden in the tree line, opened fire with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, just as the team was infiltrated via helicopter.

The barrage of fire ejected one team member, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, from the helicopter just 10 feet above the ground and the helo was so badly damaged that it had to return to the valley.

After that, Slabinski “boldly rallied is remaining team and organized supporting assets for a daring assault back to the mountain peak in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammate,” the White House said.

“Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation become untenable.”

Slabinksi’s quick thinking led his team to cover and called in air strikes before they were repelled down the mountain side. He ended up carrying a wounded teammate through thick snow while continuing to direct fire on enemy positions.

 “During the subsequent 14 hours, he stabilized casualties on his team and continued the fight against the enemy until the mountaintop was secured and the quick reaction force and his team was extracted,” the statement says.

One New York Times  report said Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman was wounded and left on the mountain. Slabinksi at the time told the Times he was able to reach Chapman but thought he was dead before the team began scaling down the mountain.

The Air Force claims, however, that Chapman was alive and continued fighting after the SEALs left him, according to the Times. Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, a retired Delta Force commander, told the Times “we would have been trying to move heaven and earth to get him out of there,” if Chapman was believed to still be alive at the time.

“It’s easy to say, ‘well, I’d never leave someone behind,’” said Harrell. “It’s a lot harder when you’re getting your ass shot off.”