During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at what has become known as the Battle of Robert’s Ridge in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002, and the actions of Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski.
Britt K. Slabinski’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while assigned to a Joint Task Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In the early morning of 4 March 2002, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Slabinski led a reconnaissance team to its assigned area atop a 10,000-foot snow-covered mountain. Their insertion helicopter was suddenly riddled with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire from previously undetected enemy positions. The crippled helicopter lurched violently and ejected one teammate onto the mountain before the pilots were forced to crash land in the valley far below.
“Senior Chief Slabinski boldly rallied his five remaining team members and marshalled supporting assets for an assault to rescue their stranded teammate. During reinsertion the team came under fire from three directions, and one teammate started moving uphill toward an enemy strongpoint.
“Without regard for his own safety, Senior Chief Slabinski charged directly toward enemy fire to join his teammate. Together, they fearlessly assaulted and cleared the first bunker they encountered. The enemy then unleashed a hail of machine gun fire from a second hardened position only twenty meters away. Senior Chief Slabinski repeatedly exposed himself to deadly fire to personally engage the second enemy bunker and orient his team’s fires in the furious, close-quarters firefight. 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, accurate enemy mortar fire forced the team further down the sheer mountainside. Senior Chief Slabinski carried a seriously wounded teammate through deep snow and led a difficult trek across precipitous terrain while calling in fire on the enemy, which was engaging the team from the surrounding ridges.
“Throughout the next 14 hours, Senior Chief Slabinski stabilized the casualties and continued the fight against the enemy until the hill was secured and his team was extracted. By his undaunted courage, bold initiative, leadership, and devotion to duty, Senior Chief Slabinski reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
In an interview with Breaking Defense, Senior Chief Slabinski talked about his thoughts during the battle, particularly the need to rescue Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts, who had been knocked from the helicopter:
A former Eagle Scout, Slabinski was looking at his notepad and trying to sort through this Gordian Knot of responsibilities when a thought intruded into his calculations, and then refused to leave. It was the old Boy Scout pledge, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty…” “On my honor I will do my best…” “On my honor…”
“That thought kept reeling through my mind without me even wishing it, and I remember suddenly sitting up straight and starting to listen to that voice in my head,” Slabinski said … “And that’s when I decided that I was going to go get Neil, because I hadn’t done my best yet to try and rescue him.”
Slabinski’s team didn’t hesitate or flinch from that decision, despite understanding the dismal odds. “I was absolutely certain this was a one-way trip, not just for me but likely for my teammates, but we were the only chance that Neil had,” said Slabinski, who recalls thinking of his six-year-old son on the helicopter flight back to the top of Takur Gar, and of the Navy chaplains in blue suits who would soon be knocking on his family’s front door back home. “I remember thinking of my family, ‘I’m sorry for what’s to come.’”
As for the upcoming ceremony at the White House, he said:
“I’ll accept that medal with great humility, because all my guys followed me up the mountain that day, as did the aircrews that kept the flights coming, and the Rangers who came not because they knew us, but because they knew we were in trouble. In many ways I’m uncomfortable being singled out because when you wrap your head around that whole battle, every one of them deserved this medal. That’s no exaggeration.”
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