Only The Brave


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty. These are the words that begin every Medal of Honor citation, our nation’s highest, and most prestigious military decoration. They are uncommon, but not as uncommon as the actions and sacrifice detailed in the narrative summaries of those awards.

Of the estimated 50 million Americans who have worn a military uniform, 3440 have received the Medal of Honor. The criteria for the award is steep and explicit, with nearly all sacrificing their lives in the actions that earn them. Their service is memorialized at military installations throughout the world. You can read of their bravery on walls, monuments, and headstones. Buildings, streets, ships, and forward operating bases bear their names in an attempt to honor, to inspire, and to remember. If you wear a uniform, you walk in the shadows of heroes, every day.

Yesterday, there were 71 living recipients. Today, there are 72.

In the early morning hours of March 4th 2002, a helicopter attempted a landing on a mountain peak high in the Arma range of southeastern Afghanistan. The mission was reconnaissance, but war has no regard for the plans of men. War is violent, war is chaotic, and war is unforgiving. As the helicopter touched down, it was engulfed in a hail of lead and rocket propelled grenades. The helicopter escaped, but one man remained. He was alone. He was isolated. He was surrounded.

Men and women join the military for many reasons, but they do not join with the desire to die. There will always be moments of uncertainty, fear, and hesitation. Moments when fear turns thoughts to your own safety, wellbeing, and survival. Every service issues a uniform, none of them issue courage. In those moments, where beliefs and resolve are tested, leadership illuminates the path.

On March 4th 2002, , Master Chief Special Warfare Operator, SEAL (Ret), Britt Slabinski chose to lead.

He lead his men back into the fight, into overwhelming odds and enemy fire superiority. There would be no element of surprise, there would be no tactical advantage. Despite the odds, despite the risk, he chose to lead. They assaulted trenches, bunkers, and hardened machine gun nests. They took the fight to the enemy until it reached the brink of their own destruction. They did not run, they did not hide, they fought.

Bravery is not motivated by fear, rage, hate, or the desire for awards and recognition. Bravery is motivated by love. Love for an ideal, for a country, for a teammate, and for a brother. It is not a certainty, it is a choice.

Master Chief Slabinski and his men, chose to be brave.

His actions, and his leadership are an example, not just to every Sailor, Soldier, Marine, and Airman, but to every American. His citation has earned its place among the other heroes who have received the Medal of Honor. It belongs, not just on the walls of every military installation, but on the walls of every home in America. His actions serve as a beacon, as a reminder of who we can become, and what we can accomplish when we challenge the abyss, instead of running from it.


18 thoughts on “Only The Brave

  1. One of my favorite phrases, “ … they did not join with the desire to die.” Being LEO and prior Navy, I too often hear the words, the we signed up for it and we knew what we were getting into. I haven’t met a single one of us who joined to die. But best believe we will bleed blue for one another. Been reading a lot of criticism from keyboard warriors saying the Medal of Honor is given to killers. They’ll never understand… Good to see you you writing again.


  2. I read an interesting article a few weeks back, when it was announced that Master Chief was receiving the award, detailing some of the back and forth through the years about the confusion with the Airman that was with them. From everything I read it seemed like both narratives could be true and both men could be deserving of the MOH. SOCM Slabinski made the tough call to leave the airman behind, believing wholeheartedly that he was dead. Everything he chose to do up to and after that choice are deserving of the MOH. If it is true that the airman was not dead and carried on the fight the way it is believed by some that he did, he could also very well be deserving. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the controversy?

    I love the podcast by the way. I just started listening a couple weeks ago but Ive already knocked out the first dozen or so.


    • I too read differing versions of the same battle and ensuing firefight. I understand how perceptions maybe altered by outside influences, but everyone should be pulling on the rope the same.


  3. What a gift of expression and inspiration you have. Great to see your brilliance in writing once again. Always teaching us by “example”!


  4. It is called the Victoria Cross here, “across the pond”, but it means exactly the same. There is much in common between those who received it regardless of the country.


  5. I wrote my previous comment quickly and would like to amend my use of “Airman,” to Air Force Tech Sgt. John Chapman. He deserves better than the haphazard way I wrote it before.


  6. This was awesome….I noticed the most recent article you have written is from 2018. You have a message. You have a story and a perspective that needs to be told. I hope you would consider “picking up the pen” again.


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