Thursday, April 23, 2015

Medal of Honor recipient speaks to Team McConnell

by Staff Sgt. Rachel Waller
22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

4/23/2015 - MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.  -- The first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War shared his story with Team McConnell members, April 21.

"Today, we have the great privilege of listening to [Army] Staff Sgt. Salvatore A. Giunta, the eighth Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts," said U.S. Air Force Col. Albert Miller, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander. "This is truly an honor."

Giunta spoke to more than 200 Airmen, civilians and family members. His message - to thank the service members for all they do.

"This has been a very interesting journey for me, and it has nothing to do with me or is about me whatsoever. It's always been about us," emphasized Giunta. "For you in the service, I think you forget how important you truly are, because for you it's another day of going to work, but for me, it's maintaining my freedom."

Giunta joined the Army in November 2003, at just 18 years old.

After completing basic combat training and airborne assault school, Giunta was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment Vicenza, Italy. Soon after Giunta arrived, his unit deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months.

Giunta explained to the audience that due to his unit's mission of movement to contact, where the Soldiers would wait for an enemy combatant to attack and then they would return fire and neutralize the threat, they were under fire almost every day.

"One of the first things I learned was that we as Americans, do not fight because we hate what lies in front of us, we don't hate the enemy, we fight because we love what we have at home," said Giunta about his mission. "We love our freedoms, our privileges, our American way of life. That is why we fight."

Fast forward to Oct. 25, 2007, Giunta is about six months into his second deployment when his team was ambushed in the Korengal Valley in northeastern Afghanistan. During the ambush, Giunta saw two people carrying someone away by his arms and feet.

Giunta said he eventually realized it was two enemies carrying away a Soldier.

"I did exactly, nothing more, nothing above and beyond, just exactly what my job description said, 'Enclose with the enemies of the United States of America in close combat,'" said Giunta. "I did exactly what my job description said, I enclosed the enemy, destroyed the enemy and grabbed my buddy and took off in the direction I came from."

On Nov. 16, 2010, Giunta received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the ambush.

Giunta says his life has changed drastically since he received the Medal of Honor.

"I've always been one of many but this medal singled me out and put the heaviest responsibility I've felt in my entire life on my shoulders," said Giunta. "I realized what this actually meant, who I was representing and I had to step my game up."

Giunta explained that he didn't feel like he was good enough to represent the men and women of the Armed Forces.

"They are bigger, they are faster, they are stronger, they are smarter, they care more and if I had to be their voice, I had to fly a little straighter," said Giunta. "I represent the best of the best."

Hearing Giunta's story and experiences left remarkable impressions on Team McConnell Airmen.

"I felt like I was there with him as he told his story," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacquelyn Yenser, 22nd ARW wing administrator. "He was very humble and confident as he told his story."

Giunta stressed that the accolades he has received aren't for him, but for his brothers and sisters in arms.

"On November 16, I stood at the White House to receive this medal, but it's not mine," said the humble Soldier. "This medal is for you guys. You guys take care of the hard stuff. This is for all of you who have done the most amazing and heroic incredible courageous things. Remember what you do matters so much, to people like me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Before leaving, Giunta challenged Team McConnell to give 100 percent.

"I challenge you not to give just 100 percent today but give 100 percent tomorrow, give 100 percent until your very last breath," he said. "That's a challenge and every day won't be the best day and that's okay. God willing, tomorrow the sun will rise and we'll get a whole another chance to start all over again and we'll have the awesome opportunity to try again."

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