Navy Seal Britt Slabinski to Receive Medal of Honor
On May 24, Retired Navy SEAL Britt Slabinski will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan, March 4, 2002. A part of what is known as Operation Anaconda, then Senior Chief Slabinski led 5 SEALS and one Air Force Tech Sergeant against an overwhelming enemy force on a mountain called Takur Ghar. But it was a complicated battle, one that ended up creating controversy and tension between special operators.
The operation was a dangerous one. Sablinksi asked to delay it because of the extreme danger. His request was denied. When the team arrived at Takur Ghar, Al-Qaida was already there.
The White House press release states:
As a Team Leader assigned to a Joint Task Force, in the early morning hours of 4 March 2002, then-Senior Chief Slabinski led a reconnaissance team to its assigned observation area on a snow-covered, 10,000-foot mountain-top in support of a major coalition offensive against Al-Qaeda forces in the valley below.
Rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fired from enemy fighters hidden and entrenched in the tree lines and rocks riddled the team’s insertion helicopter. One teammate was ejected from the aircraft, and the crippled helicopter crash-landed on the valley floor below.
Then-Senior Chief Slabinski boldly rallied his remaining team and organized supporting assets for a daring assault back to the mountain peak in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammate. Later, after a second enemy-opposed insertion, then-Senior Chief Slabinski led his six-man joint team up a snow-covered hill, in a frontal assault against two bunkers under withering enemy fire from three directions.
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. Proximity made air support impossible, and after several teammates became casualties, the situation became untenable.
Senior Chief Slabinski maneuvered his team to a more defensible position, directed air strikes in very close proximity to his team’s position, and requested reinforcements. As daylight approached, the accurate enemy mortar fire forced the team further down the sheer mountainside
Carrying a seriously wounded teammate down a sheer cliff face, he led an arduous trek across one kilometer of precipitous terrain, through waist-deep snow while continuing to call fire on the enemy who was engaging the team from the surrounding ridges.
During the subsequent 14 hours, he stabilized casualties on his team and continued the fight against the enemy until the mountaintop was secured by the quick reaction force and his team was extracted.
Britt Sablinski retired as the Director of the Naval Special Warfare Safety Assurance and Analysis Program after 25 years of service in the US Navy. His awards include the Navy Cross, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, five Bronze Stars with combat “V” device, and two Combat Action Ribbons. He deployed multiple times in Iraq and Afghanistan 15 combat deployments, 9 overseas deployments. The MOH reflects an upgrade from the Navy Cross.
The pain of memory
Senior Chief Sablinski’s actions were not without controversy, as one member of the team, Tech Sgt John Chapman was left behind on the mountain due to the withering fire from the enemy. Sablinski believes he was dead when he got to him since he detected no response, but now questions whether he was right or not.
The Air Force used technology to attempt to find out whether Chapman was alive for at least an hour after the SEAL team’s departure. According to the Times, they believe it shows that he was providing covering fire. When his body was finally recovered, he had 9 gunshot wounds. It caused Chief Sablinski to second guess himself.
The Times wrote in 2016:
At times, Chief Slabinski said, he feels as if he had never left Takur Ghar. He still has “visions” in which he sees fighters on the mountain moving in slow motion, and hears the sound of grenades and gunfire. He has trouble sleeping, and says he has received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress after a dozen years of war.
What stays with him the most is that morning he led his team into battle to try to save one man, only to be told later that he had left another fighting for his life.
“Is it within John’s character to go on and do this? Without a question,” the chief said. “If John did this stuff, I want him to get recognized.”
Without question, Sablinski conducted actions worthy of the Medal of Honor. If Tech Sgt Chapman did what the Air Force says he did, he, too should receive the MOH. The Times says that the Air Force has recommended the medal for him, based on the technology they used.
“It’s easy to say, ‘well, I’d never leave someone behind. It’s a lot harder when you’re getting your ass shot off…If anyone thought Chapman was still alive we would have been trying to move heaven and earth to get him out of there.” Retired Delta Force Commander Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell