President Awards Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2010 — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma pre­sent­ed the Medal of Hon­or today to the first liv­ing ser­vice­mem­ber to receive the dis­tinc­tion for ser­vice in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Dur­ing a White House cer­e­mo­ny, the com­man­der in chief of what he called “the finest mil­i­tary that the world has ever known” award­ed the medal to Army Staff Sgt. Sal­va­tore A. Giun­ta for hero­ic action in Afghanistan’s Koren­gal Val­ley on Oct. 25, 2007.

“Since the end of the Viet­nam War, the Medal of Hon­or has been award­ed nine times for con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry in an ongo­ing or recent con­flict. Sad­ly, our nation has been unable to present this dec­o­ra­tion to the recip­i­ents them­selves, because each gave his life, his last full mea­sure of devo­tion, for his coun­try,” Oba­ma said.

“Today, there­fore, marks the first time in near­ly 40 years that the recip­i­ent of the Medal of Hon­or for an ongo­ing con­flict has been able to come to the White House and accept this recog­ni­tion in per­son,” the pres­i­dent said.

The Medal of Hon­or is the high­est mil­i­tary award a ser­vice­mem­ber can receive for val­or in action against a com­bat­ant force. Giunta’s Medal of Hon­or is the eighth award­ed to troops serv­ing in Iraq or Afghanistan. The pre­vi­ous sev­en awards all have been posthu­mous.

“It is my priv­i­lege to present our nation’s high­est mil­i­tary dec­o­ra­tion … to a sol­dier as hum­ble as he is hero­ic,” the pres­i­dent said. “I’m going to go off script here for a sec­ond and just say, ‘I real­ly like this guy.’ ”

Cheers and applause fol­lowed.

“When you meet Sal and you meet his fam­i­ly,” Oba­ma con­tin­ued, “you are just absolute­ly con­vinced that this is what Amer­i­ca is all about. So this is a joy­ous occa­sion for me.” Dur­ing Giunta’s first of two tours in Afghanistan, his team leader gave him a piece of advice, Oba­ma said: “You’ve just got to try to do every­thing you can when it’s your time to do it.”

The pres­i­dent then described the events that led to today’s medal pre­sen­ta­tion.

“He was a spe­cial­ist then, just 22 years old. Sal and his pla­toon were sev­er­al days into a mis­sion in the Koren­gal Val­ley, the most dan­ger­ous val­ley in north­east Afghanistan,” Oba­ma said.

Giun­ta was serv­ing as a rifle team leader with the 173rd Air­borne Brigade Com­bat Team’s Com­pa­ny B, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 503rd Infantry Reg­i­ment. That Octo­ber evening, his squad ran into an insur­gent ambush.

The platoon’s sol­diers had spent the day in an over­watch posi­tion and were head­ing back to their base camp. Giunta’s squad moved out first and came under ene­my fire. “It was an ambush so close that the cracks of the guns and the whiz of the bul­lets were simul­ta­ne­ous,” the pres­i­dent said. “The Apache gun­ships over­head saw it all, but couldn’t engage with the ene­my so close to our sol­diers.”

When the ambush split Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed him­self to ene­my fire to pull a squad mate back to cov­er. Lat­er, while return­ing fire and attempt­ing to link up with the rest of his squad, Giun­ta saw two insur­gents car­ry­ing away a wound­ed fel­low sol­dier, Sgt. Joshua C. Bren­nan.

“Sal nev­er broke stride,” Oba­ma said. “He leapt for­ward, he took aim, he killed one of the insur­gents and wound­ed the oth­er, who ran off. Sal found his friend alive, but bad­ly wound­ed. He had saved him from the ene­my. Now he had to try to save his life.”

Giun­ta pro­vid­ed med­ical aid to his wound­ed com­rade while the rest of his squad caught up and pro­vid­ed secu­ri­ty. Bren­nan, 22, from McFar­land, Wis., died the next day dur­ing surgery. A medic, Spc. Hugo V. Men­doza, 29, of Glen­dale, Ariz., also died.

“It had been as intense and vio­lent a fire­fight as any sol­dier will expe­ri­ence,” the pres­i­dent said. “By the time it was fin­ished, every mem­ber of first pla­toon had shrap­nel or a bul­let hole in their gear. Five were wound­ed, and two gave their lives.”

Oba­ma said Giun­ta is a “low-key guy” who doesn’t seek the lime­light.

“Your actions dis­rupt­ed a dev­as­tat­ing ambush before it could claim more lives,” the pres­i­dent said to Giun­ta. “Your courage pre­vent­ed the cap­ture of an Amer­i­can sol­dier and brought that sol­dier back to his fam­i­ly. You may believe you don’t deserve this hon­or, but it was your fel­low sol­diers who rec­om­mend­ed you for it.”

Oba­ma asked mem­bers of Giunta’s team from that day who were present at the cer­e­mo­ny to stand and be rec­og­nized.

“Gen­tle­men, thank you for your ser­vice,” Oba­ma said. “We’re all in your debt, and I’m proud to be your com­man­der in chief.”

America’s high­ly trained and bat­tle-hard­ened ser­vice­mem­bers all have one thing in com­mon, Oba­ma said: they vol­un­teer.

“In an era when it’s nev­er been more tempt­ing to chase per­son­al ambi­tion or nar­row self-inter­est, they chose the oppo­site,” he said. “For the bet­ter part of a decade, they have endured tour after tour in dis­tant and dif­fi­cult places. They have pro­tect­ed us from dan­ger. They have giv­en oth­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn a bet­ter and more secure life.” Oba­ma quot­ed some­thing Giun­ta said short­ly after he learned he would receive the Medal of Hon­or.

“ ‘If I’m a hero,’ Sal has said, ‘Then every man who stands around me, every woman in the mil­i­tary, every per­son who defends this coun­try is.’ And he’s right,” the pres­i­dent said. “This medal today is a tes­ta­ment to his uncom­mon val­or, but also to the par­ents and the com­mu­ni­ty that raised him, the mil­i­tary that trained him, and all the men and women who served by his side.”

Today’s ser­vice­mem­bers rep­re­sent a small frac­tion of the nation’s pop­u­la­tion, Oba­ma said.

“But they and the fam­i­lies who await their safe return car­ry far more than their fair share of our bur­den. They do it in hopes that our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren won’t have to,” he said. “They are the very best part of us. … They are why our ban­ner still waves, our found­ing prin­ci­ples still shine. They are why our coun­try, the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, still stands as a force for good all over the world.”

The pres­i­dent stood beside the staff sergeant as the Medal of Hon­or cita­tion was read, and then fas­tened the dis­tinc­tive blue rib­bon sus­pend­ing the medal around Giunta’s neck.

Giun­ta stood at atten­tion as the crowd applaud­ed and cheered. Final­ly, when the clap­ping con­tin­ued with­out abat­ing, the young man smiled.

Giun­ta was born Jan. 21, 1985, in Clin­ton, Iowa, and grew up in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha, Iowa. His par­ents, Steven and Rose­mary Giun­ta, live in Hiawatha. He has a younger broth­er, Mario, and a younger sis­ter, Katie.

Giun­ta enlist­ed in the Army in Novem­ber 2003, and com­plet­ed basic and infantry train­ing at Fort Ben­ning, Ga. He mar­ried Jen­nifer Lynn Mueller, a native of Dubuque, Iowa, in Octo­ber 2009.

Giun­ta com­plet­ed two com­bat tours in Afghanistan with the 173rd, from March 2005 to March 2006 and from May 2007 to August 2008. He cur­rent­ly is sta­tioned at the unit’s home base near Vicen­za, Italy, while the brigade is once more deployed to Afghanistan.

Giunta’s wife, par­ents and sib­lings accom­pa­nied him to the White House for today’s medal pre­sen­ta­tion.

Also attend­ing today’s cer­e­mo­ny were First Lady Michelle Oba­ma, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, mem­bers of Con­gress, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Army Sec­re­tary John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

Here is the text of Giunta’s Medal of Hon­or cita­tion:

The Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, autho­rized by Act of Con­gress, March 3, 1863, has award­ed, in the name of Con­gress, the Medal of Hon­or to Spe­cial­ist Sal­va­tore A. Giun­ta, Unit­ed States Army. For con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry and intre­pid­i­ty at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Spe­cial­ist Sal­va­tore A. Giun­ta dis­tin­guished him­self con­spic­u­ous­ly by gal­lantry and intre­pid­i­ty at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed ene­my in the Koren­gal Val­ley, Afghanistan, on Octo­ber 25, 2007.

While con­duct­ing a patrol as team leader with Com­pa­ny B, 2d Bat­tal­ion (Air­borne), 503d Infantry Reg­i­ment, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta and his team were nav­i­gat­ing through harsh ter­rain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coor­di­nat­ed insur­gent force. While under heavy ene­my fire, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta imme­di­ate­ly sprint­ed towards cov­er and engaged the ene­my.

See­ing that his squad leader had fall­en and believ­ing that he had been injured, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta exposed him­self to with­er­ing ene­my fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cov­er, and admin­is­tered med­ical aid. While admin­is­ter­ing first aid, ene­my fire struck Spe­cial­ist Giunta’s body armor and his sec­ondary weapon.

With­out regard to the ongo­ing fire, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta engaged the ene­my before prep­ping and throw­ing grenades, using the explo­sions for cov­er in order to con­ceal his posi­tion.

Attempt­ing to reach addi­tion­al wound­ed fel­low sol­diers who were sep­a­rat­ed from the squad, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta and his team encoun­tered a bar­rage of ene­my fire that forced them to the ground. The team con­tin­ued for­ward and upon reach­ing the wound­ed sol­diers, Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta real­ized that anoth­er sol­dier was still sep­a­rat­ed from the ele­ment.

Spe­cial­ist Giun­ta then advanced for­ward on his own ini­tia­tive. As he crest­ed the top of a hill, he observed two insur­gents car­ry­ing away an Amer­i­can sol­dier. He imme­di­ate­ly engaged the ene­my, killing one and wound­ing the oth­er. Upon reach­ing the wound­ed sol­dier, he began to pro­vide med­ical aid, as his squad caught up and pro­vid­ed secu­ri­ty.

Spe­cial­ist Giunta’s unwa­ver­ing courage, self­less­ness, and deci­sive lead­er­ship while under extreme ene­my fire were inte­gral to his platoon’s abil­i­ty to defeat an ene­my ambush and recov­er a fel­low Amer­i­can sol­dier from the ene­my. Spe­cial­ist Sal­va­tore A. Giunta’s extra­or­di­nary hero­ism and self­less­ness above and beyond the call of duty are in keep­ing with the high­est tra­di­tions of mil­i­tary ser­vice and reflect great cred­it upon him­self, Com­pa­ny B, 2d Bat­tal­ion (Air­borne), 503rd Infantry Reg­i­ment, and the Unit­ed States Army.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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