FORT LIBERTY, N.C. — A 82nd Airborne Division Paratrooper was recognized for his heroic actions during a Soldier’s Medal Award Ceremony on August 11, 2023.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph Guerra, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division received the award for his acts of selfless service and heroism on June 11, 2021 during an active shooter incident in Columbus, Georgia.
On the evening of the incident, then 2nd Lt. Guerra was out with friends, when an active shooter opened fire in their direction. Guerra acted with complete disregard for his own safety and pushed a fellow Soldier to the ground and began to cover her with his own body to protect her from incoming gunfire.
“Initially I thought that maybe somebody was lighting off fireworks behind us, but it wasn't until I turned my head that I saw there was an actual muzzle flash coming out of a barrel that I knew someone was shooting at us,” said Guerra during an interview prior to the ceremony.
Once the assailant fled the scene, Guerra and his fellow Soldier quickly rendered first aid to three victims suffering from wounds from the attack. He continued to remain with the victims while monitoring their condition until paramedics arrived at the scene and they were transported to a local hospital.
Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, highlighted the prestige of the award citing that over 18,500 Soldiers have received the decoration since its inception, with just over 240 active-duty Soldiers receiving it in the present day. “You should be very proud of [receiving this award],” said LaNeve while addressing Guerra directly in his remarks. “You have to live up to it too.”
Introduced in July 1926, the Soldier’s Medal is the highest Army individual decoration honor a Soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat event. The Soldier's Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, including Reserve Component soldiers not serving in a duty status at the time of the heroic act, distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving conflict with an enemy.
“We often talk about the spirit of the American Paratrooper,” said LaNeve. “The courage of normal humans, attempting superhuman things for our country, our allies, the unit, and most importantly, for everything we do, for each other.”
“I just want to let people know to take training seriously because you really don’t know when the situation is going to arise where you’re going to have to use the training,” said Guerra.
Guerra’s Soldier’s Medal citation reads as follows:
For heroism, on 11 June 2021, then Second Lieutenant Guerra showed what it takes to be a Soldier, both on and off duty. His selfless bravery in shielding a fellow officer from dangerous gunfire without regard to his own life or safety epitomizes what it means to be an American Soldier. Second Lieutenant Guerra’s quick thinking and decisive action to render first aid following the horrific attack saved the life of three victims. Second Lieutenant Guerra selfless service, and willingness to expose himself to extreme personal danger reflect great credit upon him, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the United States Army.