WASHINGTON — An Army sergeant who exposed himself to intense enemy fire in an effort to save comrades in Afghanistan will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, the White House announced Friday.
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 25, will become the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Six medals of honor have been awarded posthumously from those conflicts.
Giunta will receive the award for his actions in response to an ambush in Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley on Oct. 25, 2007. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in the ambush and several others were wounded.
Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa, was serving at the time as a team leader in Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment when his squad was ambushed by insurgents, according to an account provided by the Army. His rank was specialist at the time.
Intense enemy fire from insurgents split Giunta's team from the rest of his squad. Giunta was knocked down when a bullet hit him in his armored chest plate. He immediately charged straight into enemy fire in order to pull a comrade back to cover.
As he attempted to link his team with the rest of the squad, he saw insurgents drag a badly wounded colleague off the battlefield.
Tossing hand grenades, Giunta charged the enemy, killing one insurgent and wounding another. He recovered the colleague and immediately began providing first aid. The soldier later died from his wounds.
It was Giunta's second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He had previously been awarded the Bronze Star.
"His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon's ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands," the White House said in a statement.
President Obama spoke to Giunta on Thursday to inform the paratrooper of his decision.