Uncommon Valor: SSgt. Salvatore Giunta
"In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present."
Sir Francis Bacon
Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta
Place of birth: Clinton, Iowa
Allegiance: United States of America
Service/branch: United States Army
Years of service: 2003 – 2011
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade CombatTeam
Battles/wars: War in Afghanistan
Awards: Medal of Honor Bronze Star Purple Heart
1st tour in Afghanistan
Upon occasion, I have the opportunity to communicate with those of other nations. I am astounded by their attitude toward Americans. In an attempt to enlighten them, they typically cite the policies and practices of our nation’s leaders. Indeed, they reflect the American doctrine, but not the hearts and soul of our country’s greatest asset; the people.
This is a primary example of a case in point. An 18 year old kid from the Iowa decided to make a difference by joining the Army. He received both his Basic Training and Infantry Training at Fort Benning. His initial duty assignment was 7,000 miles from home in Afghanistan. After a brief break he returned for a second tour in 2007. As so many before him, he was to call the Korengal Valley his home. Those whom did so before him, had another name for it based on its reputation. It was known as 'the Valley of Death' for its unforgiving terrain and track record.
In a devastating Taliban attack on an area known as Honcho Hill, the U.S. Army lost a beloved comrade along with military equipment they needed to reacquire. Therefore, the stage was set for the commencement of a special operation to recover U.S. equipment captured. The mission was to be identified as Operation Rock Avalanche. The strategy consisted of the coordination of 3 Platoons. The first Platoon was to provide cover from the enemy threat upon the hillside looking down upon the valley, while the second and third Platoons met with the local villagers to get back the U.S. property. As the team reviewed their strategy and tactics for the operation, his team leader provided the following advice if things got sticky; " You just gotta try to do everything you can when its your time to do it." As it turns out, That time was nearing ever so close.
These are the circumstances and actions which led to Salvatore Giunta being awarded the Medal of Honor. SSgt. Guinta, then a specialist, would be the forth recipient in the Afghanistan War. He would be the first to receive it not posthumously since the Vietnam Conflict. So on a moonlit night, October 25th, 2007, the young 22 year old specialist along with the members of the first Platoon began the journey back to their combat outpost. Having accomplished their mission to provide cover for their brethren Platoon, they proceeded single file due to the steep terrain. Rifle Team Leader Giunta describes what followed for the small Platoon along the Gatigal Spur of Honcho Hill.
“There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards. They’re above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They’re hitting in the dirt early. They’re going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close—as close as I’ve ever seen.”
An ambush of a dozen or so insurgents armed with AK-47’s, RPG’s and PKM machine guns erupted within mere meters of the American squad. In fact, the enemy was so close; the Air support Apache Helicopters were helpless to neutralize the assault due to the proximity of the soldiers to the Taliban insurgents. Sgt. Josh Brennan was on the point of this single file formation. Salvatore would say of the hundreds of rounds fired in rapid succession, there were more tracers than stars in the sky.
The point man was immediately hit by numerous rounds of the ensuing volley. Sgt. Brennan was followed next in the formation by Specialist Frank Eckrode, also struck with numerous rounds. The third man in single file formation, Squad Leader Eric Gallardo, made an initial attempt to advance, in a failed effort to assist his fallen brothers. He was unable to advance due to the degree of firepower of the enemy attack. As Gallardo fell back toward the fourth man, Sgt. Giunta, Gallardo was struck in the helmet by a round. Sal, realizied they were facing a multi-directional attack from the north and west; fore the ridge provided little or no cover as rounds wizzed all around him. He radioed the situation to the 13 man team trailing immediately behind the ambush position.
Giunta then directed the rearguard, PFC Kaleb Casey and Garret Clary to pull back, in effort to counter a potential enemy flanking movement. Casey and Clary provided support firing a M249 and M203 as Sgt. Giunta ran toward Gallardo through a hail of enemy fire. In doing so, while assisting Gallardo to cover, he was hit in his ceramic plate body armor, while another round struck his slung weapon. The four men then assembled in an effort to counter the attack and reach their fallen comrades. The men were able to reach Eckrode, as Gallardo dressed his multiple wounds and then called for MEDEVAC assistance. WIth Eckrode secure, Giunta and Clary set out to retrieve Brennen.
As they arrived at the location where they last saw Brennan, Sgt. Guinta took off through the opening to peer down the crest in the valley. Sal spotted his best friend in the hands of the enemy. Brennan was being dragged away by his captors. Sgt. Giunta continued toward Brennan’s captors firing his M4 rfle, killing one and wounding the other; enough so to release his prisoner to flee. Sgt. Guinta successfully reunited Sgt. Brennan with the rest of the team until such time assistance arrived. Sgt. Brennan’s wounds were too extensive and died in surgery the following day. Specialist Hugo Mendoza, medic for the squad, was also killed in the ambush. In fact, none of the Platoon had come away unscathed. All had shrapnel or bullet holes in their gear.
November 16, 2010, President Obama awards Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry for his courageous actions against an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan in October 2007.
Lest we shall forget