Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski will receive the military’s highest honor for his “daring assault” amidst ongoing enemy fire, according to the White House.
Sixteen years ago, during the early morning of March 4, Slabinski was leading a reconnaissance team to the top of a 10,000 foot snow-covered mountain when unexpected heavy fire knocked Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts out of their Chinook helicopter and onto the mountaintop, according to the Navy and ABC reporting at the time.
The damaged helicopter was forced to land in the valley below and Slabinski rallied the remainder of his team on a rescue back up to the mountaintop, the White House said.
During the rescue, then-Senior Chief Slabinski’s team was successfully inserted on top of the mountain, Takur Ghar.
He and a teammate assaulted and cleared one enemy bunker at close range, but then faced a hail of machine gun fire from 20 meters away, according to the Navy.
As they faced mounting casualties and ran low on ammunition, Slabinski maneuvered his team over the mountainside.
Slabinski carried a “seriously wounded teammate through waist-deep snow, and led an arduous trek” – eventually moving down the sheer side of the mountain, said the Navy.
After 14 hours on the mountaintop – stabilizing casualties and fighting against enemy fire – the team was extracted. Seven Americans were dead and six wounded.
As it turned out, Roberts had been captured and killed after falling out of the helicopter.
The battle, which became known as Roberts Ridge, was a part of Operation Anaconda – a 16-day mission to destroy al Qaeda and Taliban forces fortified in mountainous positions in eastern Afghanistan. At the time, it was the deadliest ground offensive of the war in Afghanistan.
Slabinski’s honor comes amid years of controversy over the events on the deadly day.
Earlier this month, Newsweek reported that its reporter had reviewed footage appearing to show that Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman was left behind alive by Slabinski and the rest of the SEAL team during the rescue for Roberts.
The footage supported Air Force claims that Chapman “fought on for an hour, badly wounded and alone, before Al-Qaeda militants killed him as he provided cover for an approaching helicopter,” reported Newsweek.
In 2016, The New York Times reported that although Slabinski believed Chapman was dead, the team retreated, leaving the Air Force sergeant to fight alone for more than an hour.
Chapman will also be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor later this year, according to Task and Purpose.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Dave Eastburn said, “we are well aware of the passionate arguments that have surrounded this nomination, but no one should think that these issues were not given due consideration in our exhaustive evaluation process.”
“The secretary fairly and thoroughly evaluated the Medal of Honor nomination for SOCM Britt Slabinski against the long-standing Medal of Honor award criteria. Based on SOCM Slabinski’s heroic actions at the Battle of Roberts Ridge, the secretary recommended that the president approve the Navy’s request to award SOCM Slabinski the Medal of Honor,” he added in a statement.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the controversy, except to provide its official statement on Slabinski’s honor.
Luis Martinez and Alex Mallin contributed to this story.