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173rd Airborne soldier recommended for MoH

Jul. 1, 2010 - 08:35PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 1, 2010 - 08:35PM  |  
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A soldier who served in Afghanistan could be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

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A soldier who served in Afghanistan could be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

News outlets in and around Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have reported that Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, who is from that area, is believed to be the soldier being considered for the nation's highest valor award. Giunta is currently stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

The recommendation has been sent from the Defense Department to the White House, according to an Army source, who confirmed that Giunta is likely the nominee.

The Washington Post was the first to report the nomination, but did not reveal the soldier's name.

A source close to the nomination said the soldier fought through a barrage of fire to repel enemy fighters in a fierce battle in late 2007 in Afghanistan's treacherous Korengal Valley. His actions saved the lives of several other soldiers.

The White House and the Army refused to comment on the nomination. Efforts to reach Giunta and his family were unsuccessful.

The AP reported officials are concerned that early disclosure could be seen as pressuring President Barack Obama to approve the medal, creating a potentially embarrassing situation if the award is not approved.

If approved, the award would be just the seventh Medal of Honor since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All six prior awards were posthumous, including four for acts of heroism in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.

The small number awarded and the fact that all were awarded posthumously has raised questions among members of Congress and senior military leaders.

When asked by reporters, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September the issue has been "a source of real concern to me." He added: The Medal of Honor nomination process is "a very time-intensive, thorough process. But I would say that I've been told there are some living potential recipients that have been put forward," he said during a Sept. 17 news conference.

Military officials have said it's difficult to compare the number of awards from previous conflicts to those for Iraq and Afghanistan because warfare has evolved so much.

"The types of actions that we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, although they can be brutally violent for short periods of time, they are not the long duration, force-on-force type of battles that we fought in the past," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said June 7 during a meeting with Army Times editors and reporters. "That said, I think … you're going to continue to see awards for Medals of Honor and Distinguished Service Crosses continue to process through, and I would expect that some of those, especially for a living soldier, would be favorably approved."

Giunta's heroic actions are chronicled in a new book titled "War," by Sebastian Junger.

A specialist at the time, Giunta deployed with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team for its June 2007 to August 2008 tour in Afghanistan.

According to Junger's book, late on Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta and his fellow soldiers from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, were on their way back from a major operation when they are ambushed by the enemy.

Giunta was the fourth soldier from the front; Sgt. Josh Brennan was walking point, according to "War."

The enemy fired machine-gun and small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades from such close range that the Apache attack helicopters overhead were unable to help the soldiers on the ground.

"First Platoon is essentially inside a shooting gallery," Junger wrote. "Within seconds, every man in the lead squad takes a bullet. Brennan goes down immediately, wounded in eight places."

As the battle progressed, Giunta "sees two enemy fighters dragging Josh Brennan down the hillside. He empties his M4 magazine at them and starts running toward his friend," according to the book.

"Giunta jams a new magazine into his gun and yells for a medic. Brennan is lying badly wounded in the open and Giunta grabs him by the vest and drags him behind a little bit of cover."

Brennan doesn't survive surgery, Junger wrote.

Giunta later talks to Junger about his actions. "I did what I did because that's what I was trained to do," he told Junger. "I didn't run through fire to save a buddy - I ran through fire to see what was going on with him and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together. I didn't run through fire to do anything heroic or brave. I did what I believe anyone would have done."

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