The following are Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s remarks for Medal of Honor recipient Master Chief Britt Slabinski’s induction into Pentagon Hall of Heroes May 25.
Deputy Secretary Shanahan, Adm. Richardson, Dana, Master Chief of the Navy Giordano, Christina, Bryce, John, Meghan, military service members who are gathered here today, DoD civilians, families, friends: Good afternoon.
What better time or place to acknowledge and decorate our nation’s finest virtues in the person of Master Chief Slabinski than here and now, at the start of our Memorial Day holiday.
Everyone should have the honor of shaking the hands of a veteran on this day, but today we have the incredible honor of shaking the hand of a certified hero and embracing his family. It’s an honor that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Yes, we are gathered here to induct Master Chief Slabinski into the Hall of Heroes. It is now, as Secretary Shanahan and others have already mentioned, over 16 years since those acts of valor occurred that we recognize today.
But if time has passed, it has not dimmed the bright glow of Master Chief Slabinski’s bravery. Nor, moreover, could we ever gather the full breadth of our nation’s gratitude towards him and his teammates.
Because just as we rightfully honor Master Chief Slabinski in this hall, we also pay tribute to an entire generation of leaders who have borne these battles.
For their families, we honor the bitter anguish of long separation. On behalf of far too many, we mourn heartbreaking, unimaginable loss.
And for almost 17 years now, we give thanks for their combined, unrelenting sacrifices.
Let us never forget what Master Chief Slabinski and his teammates did, half a globe away; where evil was allowed to metastasize, and bring horror to our own shores.
It was in this unchosen place where a chosen few drew a bright line in the mountains, and in sand, far from both our homes and theirs – and held that line to defend us, and all those threatened by this new tyranny of violence and depravity.
Indeed, if we have enjoyed peace here at home after 9/11, it is a peace that could only be earned through the strength and fortitude of men and women just like him and his team: those who ran towards the fight, who saw through the darkness, who loved each other, and this country, so much that they would do anything to save each other, no matter the odds.
We think back to the unthinkable events of the day when Master Chief Slabinski and his comrades drew upon immense courage – and to our brother service members stranded against overwhelming and fearful odds.
We try to imagine Master Chief Slabinski wading through waist-deep snow with his team, carrying his brother on his shoulder after an exhausting firefight, exceeding what we could reasonably expect of a Sailor, or a Soldier, or a Marine, or an Airman; even though what he did may be what we unreasonably expect of a hero.
And through it all, we see something we believe in, but never take for granted, about our service members – something that may be foreign or unthinkable to many people, but something we know unites those we ask to go into harm’s way on our behalf. It is the spirit of selflessness, like so many others recognized in this Hall, a singular spirit that unites our Armed Forces: serving a cause greater than self, and driven to prove worthy of that cause.
Yet Master Chief Slabinski would be the first to say that those snow-covered mountains, tangled rat lines, and poppy-covered fields of Afghanistan were, for Americans and our partners, once again, a place where uncommon valor was a common virtue – a virtue demonstrated on a daily basis in stories like this, but that may never get told.
He will repeatedly demur that this award could never be about him alone, that we serve and succeed and, yes love, as teams, as families. And there is an abiding lesson in that for all of us, one which Master Chief and his team reminded us of by their bravery.
That their greatness is truly, right here, within each member of our Armed Forces; borne by the unending faith of mothers and fathers who raise such daughters and sons, strong enough to serve, and strong enough to save.
I am honored to be in the same room with you, Master Chief Slabinski, and to your family, thank you for allowing our nation to benefit from his courage and commitment.
On behalf of the Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, and the uniformed and civilian women and men of your Navy and Marine Corps team, I offer the deepest respect a nation can bestow towards such good and faithful servants as you, Christina, Bryce, John, and Meghan. Thank you for the example you set for future generations of warriors, and warrior families – and for our Nation.
May God Bless you, and may God Bless all those we send into harm’s way on the land, sea, and air every day, to keep us safe, and free.