War on Terror Medal of Honor recipient Britt Slabinski reflects on the universal connection between soldiers, regardless of the war in which they served.

At its very essence, war doesn’t really change much. It is still humans going up against humans. We have different means of conducting war, technological advances, so we are closer to war, or we are more removed from it. It still comes down to one person looking another in the eye and saying, “Okay, this is what we believe in, and we are going to risk our lives to defend that.” 

From the amount of intense training that you do, you’re going to spend a lot of time with those people to your left and right. At the time of the Civil War, that really was your town, those were people that you grew up with, and you knew their grandparents. In today’s Army, maybe you’re not rooted in community ties, but you are rooted in ties of brotherhood and camaraderie through your shared experiences. What you end up fighting for, when it all comes down to it at that exact moment of combat, is love for the person to your left and to your right. 

There are a lot of similarities in any battle to what I experienced — especially the balance between love for your teammates, but still needing to accomplish your mission. When you’re in a command position, as I was, and you have the responsibility of those lives, that is a heavy burden to have on you. Particularly when you’re issuing the orders to go into harm’s way, fully knowing it might be their last act on Earth, that is a heavy weight to bear indeed. 

Britt Slabinski in Afghanistan
Slabinski holds an unexploded ordinance (UXO) encountered during deployment in Afghanistan.
US Navy

George Maynard was on the front line of the Union advance across the Slaughter Pen Farm at Fredericksburg. After expending all of their ammunition, his unit headed back toward Union lines. When he got back, he noticed a close friend of his wasn’t with them. I can imagine what’s going on in George’s mind. Now, anyone would have a choice to make at that moment. Where is he? Is he somewhere else on the line? Is he out in the field of battle? What do I do? 

Think about this for a minute. He was just fighting, on the line, taking lives. Now, he’s going to be in another mode. He’s going to go, risk his life again, to go save his friend, his brother. That decision — “I am going to risk everything; I am going to risk my tomorrows, everything that I have a hope of being. All of that, I’m going to put aside to go and get my friend, in hopes that he might have those same opportunities.” — is what earns him the Medal of Honor. 

It’s absolutely heart-wrenching to look at your friends in agony. So I know exactly what George Maynard was going through. I wasn’t there with him, obviously, but it’s the same thing our soldiers feel today. That thought process, that internal spark that each of us has inside that says, “I’ve got to go do something,” is unchanged. 

So where does this love of country and your fellow man come from? Where does the sense of duty come from? I can’t speak for others. All I can tell you is where it comes from for me. For me, it came from my early childhood. And the foundations we build when we’re kids really are vitally important, and they last us throughout our life. 

Growing up, I was in Boy Scouts; I was an Eagle Scout. And what I learned there, the very values I learned there, still serve me to this day. The day of my action, the Boy Scout Oath was foremost on my mind: “On my honor I do my best to do my duty.” 

Britt Slabinski Receiving MOH from Trump
Slabinski receives the Medal of Honor from President Trump in a White House ceremony on May 24, 2018.

I don’t know what the exact relationship between George Maynard and Charles Armstrong would have been. Given the history of the Civil War, they probably came from the same town — they may have been neighbors, family friends or even relatives. That isn’t necessarily the case in the ranks anymore. But the bond between brothers-in-arms has remained unchanged across centuries. I know firsthand how that bond is alive and well today. 

I wear our nation’s Medal of Honor, I am a recipient of that Medal. But the Medal doesn’t belong to me, although my name is on the back of it. I was just doing my job that day. And because nothing of consequence is ever accomplished alone, this Medal belongs to so many more people. It belongs to those that lost their lives, to my left and to my right, to those that were severely wounded, it belongs to everyone that fought there that day with me. 

 

MOH Recipient Britt Slabinski Stands on Slaughter Pen Farm
Medal of Honor recipient Britt Slabinski contemplates the fighting that took place on the Slaughter Pen Farm and it’s scale of carnage, so very different from his own era of combat.
Robert Maxwell

I wasn’t there with him, obviously, but it’s the same thing our soldiers feel today. That thought process, that internal spark that each of us has inside that says, “I’ve got to go do something,” is unchanged.

Standing on hallowed ground, I feel a connection to every one of those historic soldiers, whether it be the enlisted guys on the line, the officers commanding them or those running the cannons in the back. Everyone that fights for their nation, for those ideals, for the homeland, protecting our citizenry, protecting our ideals — I feel a connection to all of them. All of these people that fought at Fredericksburg and that continue to fight in our military today, all we want is for our fellow Americans to be the best citizens they can possibly be. Go: contribute to our society. Go: make what happened here — not only on this battlefield but on the battlefields across the world — matter. Go: be worthy of what’s been given for you. That’s all any soldier really wants. Go: be a good citizen today and tomorrow.

MOH Recipient Britt Slabinski Close Up Square
Britt Slabinski

War on Terror Medal of Honor recipient Britt Slabinski had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of a Civil War-era recipient at the Slaughter Pen Farm in Fredericksburg in the fall of 2018, as part of the American Battlefield Trust’s Brothers In Valor project.