Steamboat Springs Navy veteran awarded for heroism in Afghanistan
Steamboat Springs — Brett Morganti was stationed in Afghanistan in early March 2002 when Operation Anaconda — a battle to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban forces — began in the Shahi-Kot Valley.
“It was a very large operation, early on,” said Morganti, a commercial real estate broker who now lives in Steamboat Springs part-time.
As a special warfare operator for the U.S. Navy’s Sea Air and Land, or SEALs, Team, Morganti was part of a special operations unit attempting to take down enemy forces.
While traveling over the Arma Mountains, Morganti’s team’s helicopter was struck by a grenade, according to reports of the incident. While taking off, a teammate of Morganti’s, Neil Roberts, fell from the helicopter and was left behind.
“We don’t leave anyone behind,” Morganti said.
The team flew back to the enemy stronghold, atop a 10,000-foot mountain, and Morganti put his life in danger in an attempt to save Roberts, who ultimately did not survive, and protect his other teammates, according to a summary of the events from the Navy.
“As automatic fire erupted from an enemy bunker less than 5 meters ahead of him, Petty Officer Morganti immediately maneuvered to provide covering fire for a wounded teammate,” reads the summary. “With total disregard for his own safety, he left his covered position and exposed himself in order to pour fire from his M60 machine gun into the bunker, killing several (enemies) within. While performing this heroic act, he sustained gunshot and fragmentation wounds in both legs.”
Morganti’s actions that day were recognized by the Navy, which awarded him a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, the third-highest decoration offered by the Navy.
Upon review of all medals awarded after 9/11, the Navy earlier this month upgraded Morganti’s medal to a Navy Cross, the military’s second-highest decoration below a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Morganti’s medal was upgraded along with 21 others from the Navy and Marine Corps during two ceremonies in Virginia Beach Friday, Jan. 13.
The upgrades were part of a military-wide review of more than 1,300 decorations for heroism following 9/11, a review ordered more than a year ago by then-U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Now, nearly 15 years after ending his active duty military service, Morganti said he’s made a significant recovery from the injuries he sustained during the operation.
He and his wife, Connor Morganti, and their 3-year-old daughter, Brett-Alexa, moved to Steamboat Springs two years ago.
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Members of the Ute tribe from the Uintah and Ouray Reservation will return to Steamboat Springs to perform a series of powwow dance performances and share the history of these dances and their culture.