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November 18, 2013

President's Lecture Series: Medal of Honor Recipient Says He Was Just a Soldier Doing His Job

topstory2-lgSal Giunta
By Brendan O'Hallarn

"I am nobody special."

Those were the first words Sal A. Giunta spoke during his Old Dominion University President's Lecture Series address on Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The actions Giunta took on Oct. 25, 2007, in Afghanistan, charging a line of Taliban insurgents through the middle of a gunfight to rescue a comrade being carried away by the enemy, say otherwise.

For his extraordinary gallantry, Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, making him the first living recipient of the medal for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, the first living service member to be awarded the medal since the Vietnam War and the eighth service member to receive the nation's highest military decoration for valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in his address to an overflow crowd of 500 in the Big Blue Room of the Constant Center, Giunta stressed repeatedly that he was just a soldier doing his job. "I did absolutely everything in my job description."

In fact, he says, the belief that the other members of his unit would have done the exact same thing if he had been the soldier captured by the enemy is what inspired him to take the heroic actions. "I know they would have been there for me."

Giunta retired from the Army in June 2011, and in 2012 wrote a book about his experiences, "Living with Honor." He currently lives in Colorado with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter.

He has spent the past two years traveling around the country speaking about his experiences in Afghanistan, but also about the need for Americans to honor and respect the small percentage of their fellow citizens who choose to enlist.

"Less than 1 percent of us will take care of business no matter what the cost is," Giunta said. "When you sign up, you give the military a blank check, up to and including your own life - because you're signing up for something that is bigger than yourself."

Giunta told the audience that the U.S. military is unique in the world. "Americans go to war not because we hate what's in front of us, it's that we love what's behind us," he said.

That isn't to say what Giunta did was easy. During the hellacious firefight where he earned his Medal of Honor, five of his fellow American soldiers were killed by the Taliban. "That was not a special night. That was just another night in Afghanistan," Giunta said. That tour of duty lasted until the following July.

Giunta told the audience that he was thrilled to speak in front of so many active service members.

"I was given an opportunity to have a spotlight to speak about these issues. The rest of the 1 percent of us are busy with the job they have to do," he said.

topstory2-lg01Lt. Col. Brian Kerns (left), chair of the ODU Department of Military Science, and Maj. Gen. Mark MacCarley, deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, join Sal Giunta at a reception prior to the lecture. Photo by David Hollingsworth