“I’m trying to direct what everybody’s got going on, trying to see what’s going on with John; I’m already 95 percent certain in my mind that he’s been killed,” Mr. Slabinski said in the interview. “That’s why I was like, ‘O.K., we’ve got to move.’”
Mr. Trump acknowledged Sergeant Chapman’s death and service as he recognized the entire team on Thursday. But the president did not mention Sergeant Chapman’s continued fight after the other commandos left.
It was the third Medal of Honor ceremony Mr. Trump has presided over.
Mr. Slabinski completed nine overseas deployments and 15 combat tours before retiring in 2014. He has also faced scrutiny over accusations that as a command master chief petty officer of SEAL Team 6’s Blue Squadron a few years after the firefight in Afghanistan, he gave guidance that allowed every man to be killed in a village that was targeted. He denied the accusations, and the squadron was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
The decision to upgrade Mr. Slabinski’s Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor, further highlights the unsuccessful efforts to do the same for Sergeant Chapman, some of his advocates say.
Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary under President Barack Obama, said she recommended Sergeant Chapman as a posthumous recipient in 2016 after she ordered an internal review of awards. She had learned of the drone video footage showing Sergeant Chapman’s efforts to continue fighting after the SEAL team had left.
“So to me, that was slam-dunk evidence,” she said.
But the recommendation became bogged down, Ms. James said, in the bureaucratic process. She left her position at the end of the Obama administration with the award recommendation unresolved.
Some military officials believe the award for Sergeant Chapman — who would be the first recipient from the Air Force to be recognized with the Medal of Honor for valor in war after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — was sidelined in part by officials who want to strike the fact that he had been left behind.