President Donald Trump awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Thursday to now-retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski for “conspicuous gallantry” during a 2002 mountain battle against Al-Qaeda forces.
Salbinski entered the packed East Room of the White House with President Trump, who opened with thanks for the family of Slabinski as well as several previous Medal of Honor recipients present for the ceremony.
Trump recalled Sablinski’s childhood in Massachusetts and accomplishments as an Eagle Scout at the age of 14 and how he was inspired to enlist in the Navy after his veteran father who had been a frogman, brought a junior high-aged Sablinski to a reunion with his dad’s fellow service members. He enlisted in the Navy to become a SEAL. Trump remarked that this is a testament to Slabinski’s physical and mental strength.
Slabinski was serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2002 when, on the night of March 3, he “led an elite team on a combat mission to establish a secure position on the peak of a 10,000-foot mountain known as Takur Gahr.” His actions through that battle are the basis on which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The helicopter Slabinski and his team were in was struck by machine gun fire and a rocket-propelled grenade launched by Al-Qaeda terrorists below. Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts fell from the aircraft and on to the side of a mountain before the helicopter crashed in the valley.
After another helicopter arrived, the team attempted to rescue Roberts and fought back through ice and enemy gunfire that came from several directions. “Britt continued to engage the enemy, repeatedly exposing himself to horrendous fire,” Trump said, describing how Slabinski repeatedly helped injured team members get to safety and called in airstrikes.
Faced with no further to go, Slabinski coordinated the team’s evacuation from enemy territory.
“Seven of the brave men who fought with Britt are here with us today,” Trump said as he prompted each to stand and be recognized with applause from the crowd. Their names: Petty Officer Second Class Brett Morganti, Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Soderberg, Petty Officer Second Class Stephen Toboz, Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, and Sergeant Christopher Cunningham. Another team member, Master Sergeant Eric Stebner, was still on active duty and not able to attend Thursday’s ceremony.
Multiple ovations for Medal of Honor recipient Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski, his team (standing) from the battle in which he took the actions that led to today’s honor and the families of those who perished in that battle #MedalOfHonor pic.twitter.com/JBRQJ9cz5u
— Michelle Moons (@MichelleDiana) May 24, 2018
Trump also honored those team members who perished in the battle that day and the Gold Star family members who were able to attend the ceremony, whom Trump asked to stand and be honored. He named the fallen: Technical Sergeant John Chapman, Corporal Matthew Commons, Specialist Marc Anderson, Sergeant Bradley Crose, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Technical Sergeant Philip Svitak, and Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts.
“Through your actions, you demonstrated that there is no love more pure, and no courage more great, than the love and courage that burns in the hearts of American patriots,” Trump said of Slabinski and his team. “We are free because warriors like you are willing to give their sweat, their blood, and if they have to, their lives for our great nation.”
Trump said that Britt wanted his team to know that the Medal of Honor awarded to him this day is one that falls on the entire team.
A recitation of the battle day’s events was them read before Trump bestowed the medal on Sablinsky. The remarks emphasized his actions risked his own life above and beyond the call of duty. He and his team fought and upheld the highest traditions of the United States naval service.
Trump awarded the medal to a chorus of prolonged applause from the crowd that had raised for a standing ovation.
Prayers of thanks for service members and their actions bookended the ceremony with calls of remembrance for the price so many have paid for freedom.
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana.