Operation Tribute to Freedom

OTF Soldier Story for November 15, 2010 - Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta

Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta

Current Unit: 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment
Current Position: Rear Detachment Noncommissioned Officer In Charge
Component: Active Duty
Current Location: Vicenza, Italy
Hometown: Hiawatha, Iowa
Years of Service: 7

The highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the United States Armed Forces, the Medal of Honor is awarded sparingly and bestowed only to the bravest of the brave. So few are awarded that there have only been eight named for service in Iraq and Afghanistan—and of those, Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta is the only living recipient.

Duty, honor, service, and heroism are all words with weighty implications, but Giunta’s actions clearly define the ideals of the American Soldier and his commitment to his brothers in arms. Displaying true courage in the face of enemy fire and risking his own life for the benefit of an injured Soldier, Giunta’s actions speak to the highest values of the Army and those of the Warrior’s Creed, particularly the pledge to never leave a fallen comrade.

Despite the significance of the honor, Giunta believes the award is not just for himself, but for his entire squad.

“I’ve never gone into combat alone, I haven’t been shot at alone, and I’ve never been left alone,” he said, noting the accomplishments of his whole team.

Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for displaying immeasurable courage and uncommon valor during his deployment to Afghanistan three years ago.

On Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta and his team were trapped in a Taliban ambush in the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan. As the team returned fire at the enemy, Giunta was providing medical aid to a fellow Soldier when he noticed that his comrade Sgt. Josh Brennan was no longer with the group. Spotting him across a hill, Giunta separated himself from the team to help Brennan, a Soldier he had served alongside since he first enlisted in the Army.

Honoring the bond between brothers in arms and even placing that higher than his personal safety, Giunta crossed into the open area to reach Brennan before the Taliban took him as a prisoner. While moving toward the enemy, Giunta threw hand grenades to suppress the enemy and returned fire at the insurgents. Upon reaching Brennan, Giunta provided first aid until the medic arrived with the pair. Although Brennan succumbed to his wounds and later passed away at the hospital, Giunta’s actions ensured that the fallen Soldier received a proper burial and his family had closure.

Giunta’s unwavering courage, in the midst of an ambush in which two American paratroopers gave their lives and several more were wounded, embodies the highest ideals of the Army and the commitment of Soldiers to their fellow comrades.

However, what stands out the most to the Soldier, even three years after the incident, is the group of Soldiers that served alongside of him. As the sole recipient of the Medal of Honor, he hopes to share the story of his brothers in arms, particularly those who lost their lives during the ambush—and several of his comrades from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment were in attendance at the White House Medal of Honor ceremony earlier today.

“I didn’t go through that night alone. We all did everything asked of us to the best of our ability,” Giunta said. “Receiving the Medal of Honor gives me a platform to speak for those who cannot because they paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

Originally from Hiawatha, Iowa, and a graduate of Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School, Giunta has deployed twice to Afghanistan during his seven years of service. He joined the Army in 2003 after hearing a recruiting commercial. Although he never intended to enlist, the Soldier’s sense of patriotism is clear.

“I heard a commercial on the radio that if you met with an Army recruiter, you’d get a free t-shirt. I thought it would be cool to have an Army shirt to wear,” he said. “However, a week or so after I met with the recruiter, I realized that it made sense—I was an able-bodied male and we were a nation at war.”

Giunta currently serves with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment as a Noncommissioned Officer-in-Charge for the rear detachment. He is responsible for the health, morale, welfare, training and accountability of all assigned personnel, and works side-by-side with the other rear detachment Noncommissioned Officers to ensure all family members are well taken care of while their spouse is deployed. It is a job that Giunta knows the importance of firsthand, as he relied on the support of his family during both of his deployments to Afghanistan.

“I knew home was taken care of and it allowed me to do my job,” he said, crediting his wife and his parents for his success on the frontlines.

For more information about Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and the Medal of Honor, please visit http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/giunta/.

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