At a White House ceremony Thursday, President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to a retired Navy SEAL who led a daring mission to rescue a teammate from a mountain top in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda in 2002.
The ceremony is set to take place at 2:30 p.m. at the White House. It will be the third Medal of Honor ceremony presided over by Trump, and the first Medal of Honor he has awarded for valor in Afghanistan.
Retired Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt K. Slabinski will be the second living SEAL to receive the nation's highest honor for valor in combat in Afghanistan. Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers received the award in February 2016 for his actions during a mission to rescue an American doctor who had been captured by the Taliban.
Slabinski led a team back to rescue a fellow SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, who was ejected from an MH-47 Chinook when it was crippled by enemy rocket-propelled grenade fire on March 4, 2002, in eastern Afghanistan, according to a White House release.
The team had originally begun a mission the day before to set up an outpost on the top of Takur Ghar mountain in Afghanistan's Shah-i-Kot Valley as part of Operation Anaconda.
The rescue mission turned into a violent battle. At one point, Slabinski led his six-man joint team up a snow-covered hill in a frontal assault against two bunkers. Withering enemy fire came in from three directions, according to the release.
Slabinski "repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire" as he attacked al-Qaida forces in the rescue attempt, it states.
Soon they were in a desperate fight, and "after several teammates became casualties, the situation became untenable," the release said.
Slabinski moved his team to a safer position and directed airstrikes through the night. In the early morning hours, he then led an exhausting trek though waist-deep snow -- all the while under enemy fire.
Slabinski treated casualties and continued to call in strikes on enemy forces for another 14 hours until the team had to be extracted.
The engagement would ultimately be known as "The Battle of Roberts Ridge" in honor of Roberts.
Reporting on the battle has since painted a complex picture of the decisions made in the fog of war.
Slabinski's actions during the mission were highlighted in a 2016 New York Times story that emphasized the role of Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, who was attached to the SEAL team and ultimately died on the mountain. Chapman killed two enemy fighters during a gun battle with multiple fighters all around his position.
It was believed that Chapman died on the mountainside. Drone footage later revealed he lived at least another hour, according to reports.
Slabinski previously received the Navy Cross for leading the attempted rescue.
"During this entire sustained engagement, Senior Chief Petty Officer Slabinski exhibited classic grace under fire in steadfastly leading the intrepid rescue operation, saving the lives of his wounded men and setting the conditions for the ultimate vanquishing of the enemy and the seizing of Takur Ghar," his Navy Cross medal citation reads.
Slabinski will be the 12th living service member overall to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
He enlisted in the Navy in 1988 and graduated Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1990. He completed nine overseas deployments and 15 combat deployments during his career, according to a biography provided by the White House.
Slabinski retired as director of the Naval Special Warfare Safety Assurance and Analysis Program after more than 25 years of service, according to a release.
In addition to the Navy Cross, his previous awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, five Bronze Stars with combat "V" device, and two Combat Action Ribbons.
-- Oriana Pawlyk and Hope Seck of Military.com contributed to this story.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.