March 4, 2002.

Takur Ghar, Afghanistan.

As the sun shyly emerged, a SEAL Team 6 reconnaissance element was about to get in the fight of its life. Designated as MAKO 30 and led by Senior Chief Petty Officer Britt Slabinski, the reconnaissance team was part of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task force that was supporting Operation Anaconda.

Operation Anaconda was an attempt to destroy a large combined Taliban and al-Qaeda force that was situated in and around the Shahi Khot valley. Surrounded by steep mountains, the valley is located in Paktia province, in eastern Afghanistan.

MAKO 30’s mission was to infiltrate the peak of the mountain and to establish an observation post that would facilitate the destruction of a large force of al-Qaeda fighters at the bottom of the valley. The team would be just another JSOC recce element directing airstrikes against the enemy fighters below — there were numerous teams dispersed throughout the mountains surrounding the valley. Crucial in their mission was Technical Sergeant John Chapman, a Combat Controller (CCT) from the secretive 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS). As a qualified Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), Tech. Sgt. Chapman’s role would be to direct the airstrikes.

Chief Slabinski on top of Takur Ghar after the battle.

Despite the misgivings of the task force commander, MAKO 30 chose to infiltrate straight on top of Takur Ghar. Unbeknownst to them, a well-fortified enemy position occupied their intended landing spot on top of Takur Ghar. As the MH-47 Chinook carrying the team approached the peak, it came under intense and effective enemy machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. As a result, one of the team members, Chief Petty Officer Neil Roberts, fell from the ramp of the Chinook as the helicopter took evasive action.

Heavily damaged, the helicopter conducted a forced landing farther down the mountain’s slope. Eventually, it managed to return to base. The rest of MAKO 30 hopped on another helicopter and headed toward Takur Ghar to recover their teammate — by this point, Roberts had been killed and maimed by the foreign fighters. Once again, the team came under intense fire. Tech Sgt Chapman led the charge but was seriously wounded. Chief Slabinski made an attempt to recover Chapman — whom he thought to be dead — but was repelled by enemy fire. With two SEALs wounded, Chief Slabinski made the call to disengage and scale back down the mountain.

As the SEALs withdrew, Chapman regained consciousness and made a stand worth of the Medal of Honor.