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Pioneer Valley native, Navy SEAL, to be awarded Medal of Honor

  • SLABINSKI



For the Recorder
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A Navy SEAL and Northampton native who led a firefight and rescue mission on a snow-covered mountaintop in Afghanistan in 2002 will receive the Medal of Honor later this month.

On May 24, President Trump will present the military’s highest honor to retired Master Chief Petty Officer Britt K. Slabinski at the White House, according to a White House press release.

Growing up around Northampton, Slabinski earned the rank of Eagle Scout at 14 and graduated from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in 1988. After his graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and attended boot camp in Orlando, Fla., before fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a Navy SEAL in 1990 as a member of Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Class 164.

Mark Ames, the deputy assistant registrar for the Northampton Trial Court who went to junior high with Slabinski, said he first learned about the rigorous requirements of being a Navy SEAL from study hall conversations with Slabinski.

“He had this quiet determination about him. He seemed to really know that he wanted to be part of that elite group from a young age,” Ames said. “Over the years, as I’ve heard about the Navy SEALs, I’ve often thought of those conversations with Britt about what it takes to be a part of such an elite group, the physical requirements and different tests you have to undergo.”

Ames said it’s striking to him that Slabinski knew what he wanted to do with his life at such a young age, and “pretty amazing” that he had the determination to not only become a Navy SEAL but to be awarded such high honors.

During his time in the Navy, Slabinski completed nine overseas deployments and 15 combat deployments.

According to the White House press release, Slabinski was part of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, “in support of the Global War on Terrorism,” and is being awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during what would become known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge.

A master chief special warfare operator (sea, air, and land), Slabinski is credited with leading a reconnaissance team on a mission to a snow-covered, 10,000-foot mountaintop on March 4, 2002, to rescue Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, who was ejected from an MH-47 Chinook helicopter crippled by enemy rocket-propelled grenade fire.

Then Slabinski “repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire as he engaged in a pitched, close-quarters firefight against the tenacious and more heavily armed enemy forces,” according to the White House notice.

In a 14-hour fight against al-Qaida forces, Slabinski is credited with carrying a seriously wounded teammate down a sheer cliff face, leading a trek across a kilometer of rocky terrain in waist-deep snow while continuing to fight the enemy and stabilizing casualties on his team until the mountaintop was secured by reinforcements.

He is one of only 12 living service members to be awarded the Medal of Honor for displaying bravery in Afghanistan.

Michael Cahillane, a member of the board of trustees at Smith Vocational High School, said he knew Slabinski’s parents, and said Slabinski has accomplished a lot in his life ahead of receiving the Medal of Honor. Cahillane said the school plans to have him come back to speak about his life experiences in the near future.

“It’s just outstanding,” Cahillane said. “Not only going through that type of trauma but to have the fortitude and gumption to carry out the mission he is being honored for, it’s outstanding.”

Deryk Langlais, who grew up in Northampton with Slabinski, said he studied electronics at Smith and recalled him earning his Mile Swim award at the Chesterfield Scout Reservation at around age 13 on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America Florence Troop.

In an email from Japan where he now lives, Langlais wrote that Slabinski was reserved as a kid and said he remembered Slabinski being “virtuous” and “always physically fit,” adding that Slabinski’s father had been a Navy frogman.

“He was focused from a young age on becoming a Navy SEAL (and keep in mind that back in the 1970s and ‘80s very few people knew what a SEAL was),” Langlais wrote. “He also had a quiet, dry sense of humor that made him seem older than his peers.”

Slabinski was previously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism as sniper element leader during combat in Afghanistan in 2002. In addition to the Navy Cross, he has also been awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, five Bronze Stars with combat “V” device and two combat action ribbons.

He is a graduate of the Radioman Class “A” School in San Diego, and the U.S. Navy Senior Enlisted Academy and Command Leadership School, and has various military and civilian qualifications, including naval special warfare scout sniper, military freefall parachute jump master, and emergency medical technician/paramedic national certification.

He retired in 2014 after 25 years of service and after serving as director of Naval Special Warfare Safety Assurance and Analysis Program.

According to his Navy bio, Slabinski has one son, who is also an Eagle Scout.