President Donald Trump on Thursday inducted a new member into ‘the world’s most exclusive club of heroes’ by awarding a Medal of Honor to a Navy SEAL who led a daring assault and rescue mission on a snowy Afghanistan mountaintop in 2002.
Trump presented the nation’s most prestigious honor for selflessness on the battlefield to Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski of Northampton, Massachusetts. The president said Slabinski is a ‘special man, a truly brave person.’
‘We pay tribute to Britt’s heroic service and we proudly present him with our nation’s highest military honor, and I would go so far as to say our nation’s highest honor,’ Trump said at a White House ceremony. Several past Medal of Honor recipients attended the ceremony and were recognized by Trump.
President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski on Thursday
Slabinski oversaw a daring 2002 assault and rescue mission on a snowy Afghanistan mountaintop and carried a ‘seriously wounded teammate down a sheer cliff face’ while leading ‘an arduous trek across one kilometer of precipitous terrain, through waist-deep snow while continuing to call fire on the enemy’
The initial mission, where the team’s helicopter was attacked by enemy fire, saw Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts fall out of the Chinook helicopter into what is now known as Roberts Ridge
But when Seal Team Six returned to the mountain to rescue Roberts, Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman (pictured) was hit by enemy gunfire nearly immediately
‘Today we induct a new name into the world’s most exclusive gathering of heroes, and that’s exactly what it is,’ the president said.
Trump recounted how Slabinski risked his life by repeatedly exposing himself to ‘horrendous’ fire from more heavily armed Al-Qaeda forces in March 2002 during the Battle of Takur Ghar while leading a reconnaissance task force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Slabinski set out to rescue a teammate who was injured after falling out of their helicopter after it came under attack while attempting to land on the mountaintop.
The helicopter crash-landed in the valley below and Slabinski and the rest of the team decided to make a daring trip back up the mountain.
‘The odds were not good. They were not in their favor, but Britt and his team didn’t even hesitate for a moment,’ Trump said.
After forging ahead and exposing himself to an onslaught of enemy fire, Slabinski later carried the seriously wounded teammate down a sheer cliff face while leading a trek through waist-deep snow. He continued to battle Al-Qaeda until the mountaintop was secured and his team was extracted.
Not everyone is delighted at Slabinski’s award.
Seven American soldiers were killed in the failed mission on the Afghanistan mountaintop
Slabinski has been slammed for landing the helicopter so close to the objective, instead of having his soldiers climb the mountain on foot
He later claimed he had orders to be at the summit by sunup, and flying there was the only way to do it
His mission has been criticized by multiple members of the Army’s elite Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment, who believe a man was left behind.
Slabinski has also been slammed for landing his team too close to their objective, increasing the danger.
In the team’s first attempt at landing, they were almost immediately attacked by the enemy with ‘bullets the size of your finger’, Slabinski told Fox News ahead of the ceremony.
He said he had to take the Chinook helicopter in so close as he had orders to be at the top of the mountain by sunup.
As they tried to escape enemy fire, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts fell from the helicopter into deep snow below.
Slabinski ordered a rescue mission for Roberts, who he knew had survived the fall. After landing, gunfire surrounded the troops, and Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman was hit as soon as he stepped off the chopper.
This is where the version of events differs.
Drone footage taken 50 minutes after the Seal Team left the mountaintop shows one man in a bunker, suspected to be an alive John Chapman, fighting against two other people and shooting one dead
While Slabinski says he was ‘not more than 10-15 feet away’ from Chapman the entire time they were on the mountain and was certain he had died in the attack, drone footage obtained by the New York Times suggests he was still alive.
After the failed mission, an investigation headed by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Milani of the Army found Seal Team Six had erred by landing directly on top of the mountaintop.
The drone footage, captured about 50 minutes after the Seal Team had left the scene, showed one person alone in a bunker, defending himself against two others who were shooting at him and killing one.
Colonel Milani wrote an unclassified paper in 2003 that suggested the person in the bunker was either an alive Sergeant Chapman fighting on his own, or a member of Al-Qaeda who was experiencing friendly fire.
Slabinski retired from the Navy in 2014 after more than 25 years of service. He said following the ceremony that the medal ‘belongs to so many others’ and named the teammates ‘who followed me without hesitation.’ Slabinski said the medal also belongs to seven Americans who died on the mountaintop.
‘They gave all for us. This honor is truly theirs. They are the true heroes,’ he said in a statement delivered on the White House driveway.
Some in the Army’s elite Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment believe Chapman (pictured) had been left behind
Slabinski dedicated his award to the seven people, including Chapman who has been nominated for his own Medal of Honor, who died on the mountaintop