Medal of Honor Recipient Teaches Winning Lesson

Selflessness and team play are rare and much-needed qualities today — this vet is showing how it's done

Former Army Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2010 for his actions in Afghanistan in 2007. At the time, Giunta was the first living recipient of the award since the Vietnam War. Earlier this month, Giunta once again demonstrated his selflessness by giving the medal to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team — the unit he deployed to Afghanistan with in 2007.

President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 16, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

In 2007, as a 22-year-old specialist, Giunta deployed with the 173rd to the most dangerous and unstable part of Afghanistan: the Korengal Valley. With Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, Giunta and his unit were tasked with bringing security to an area notorious for instability and very active enemy fighters. The unit’s deployment was captured by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington for the award-winning documentary “Restrepo.”

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During Operation Rock Avalanche, a mission conducted by Battle Company and other elements of 2-503rd in October 2007, U.S. forces attempted to cut off and destroy Taliban and insurgent forces operating in the Korengal Valley and eliminate their freedom of maneuver. During the operation, enemy fighters were able to gain a tactical advantage on the 173rd paratroopers and inflicted a number of casualties. Specialist Giunta advanced through intense gunfire after an enemy ambush to retrieve the body of Sergeant Joshua Brennan, who was being carried away by enemy fighters.

Giunta was successful in killing at least one fighter, wounding the other, and retrieving Sergeant Brennan, who was still alive at the time. Brennan would later die on the Medevac helicopter.

Staff Sergeant Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama on Nov. 16, 2010, for his actions that night in the Korengal Valley. Giunta left the army in 2011 and never seemed to be at ease with having the medal. Earlier this month, he returned to Vincenza, Italy, the home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and gave the medal to his former unit during a ceremony honoring the brigade’s history. During the ceremony, Giunta said he wanted the brigade to have the medal. “I want this to stay here in Vincenza, Italy, with the 173rd to the men and women that earn this every single day through their selflessness and sacrifice,” he said.

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This incredible gesture truly demonstrates the type of person Sal Giunta is.

I served on active duty at the same time as Giunta, and while I do not know him personally, I have always been struck by how humble and gracious he has been while handling the publicity and attention that has come with being the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor in almost 40 years.

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From the beginning, he has deflected all of the praise and accolades away from himself and directed it toward the men he fought with in Afghanistan, several of whom were killed in action there. Sal Giunta continues to demonstrate every single army value and what it truly means to be an American soldier, even well after his military career has come to an end.

Christopher Castellano is a U.S. Army veteran and currently serves as a firefighter in New York City. He is an OpsLens contributor. This OpsLens article is used by permission.

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