The White House announced Monday that a retired Navy SEAL will receive the Medal of Honor later this month for his actions during 2002’s Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.
Retired Master Chief Britt Slabinski, then a senior chief, led a reconnaissance team to an observation post on a mountaintop early on March 4, 2002, to support the massive offensive against al-Qaida militants, according to the White House.
The team’s insertion helicopter came under fierce fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, with one team member ejecting from the chopper before it crashed on the valley floor.
Slabinski rallied his team and they began an attempted return to the peak to rescue their teammate, according to the White House.
He later led a six-man team in a frontal assault against blistering enemy fire.
“He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he engaged in a pitched, close-quarters firefight against the tenacious and more heavily armed enemy forces,” the White House announcement states. “Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation become untenable.”
Slabinski got his team to a more defensible position and called in air strikes before the team was forced further down the mountain side and he ended up carrying a wounded comrade through waist-deep snow while continuing to call in fire on the enemy positions, according to the White House.
“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 release states.
Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman was wounded and left on the mountain, according to a 2016 New York Times report.
Slabinski told the Times he crawled to Chapman but detected no response and thought he was dead before he retreated down the mountain’s face.
The Air Force has claimed that Chapman was still alive and fought on after the SEALs retreated, according to the Times.
Task and Purpose, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported last month that Chapman will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, though no public notice has been issued.
Retired Delta Force commander Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell was quoted by the Times saying that if anyone thought Chapman was still alive, “we would have been trying to move heaven and earth to get him out of there.”
Harrell also cautioned anyone against armchair-quarterbacking the harrowing events, or the men who endured them.
“It’s easy to say, ‘well, I’d never leave someone behind,’” Harrell was quoted as saying. “It’s a lot harder when you’re getting your ass shot off.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.