by Jack Lee
Note: The medal of honor has not been awarded to a living recipient in over 50 years.
In 2007 the US Army established it’s most distant outpost in the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan. This is an area the army has since pulled out from because this is an area of relatively low population except for the Taliban and they were constantly exposed to enemy fire. There was no tactical or useful purpose to be in that desolate regioin other than to draw fire.
As part of the routine, platoons would patrol their perimeter looking for an elusive enemy. Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta (Jinta) was leading one of these multi-day patrols, serving as cover for a second platoon. The second platoon had descended into a small village to let the people know they were there for them, looking for Taliban. Giunta’s platoon left for a ridge line at day break. As the first platoon was moving up the hill side to get high ground they were picking up enemy chatter on the radio, known as ICOM, for intelligence communication.
“But I mean, as a soldier in Afghanistan, you expect that. The Taliban reported on the radio, the enemy is up to something, they are moving. ” You’re going to hear ICOM chatter that says all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall stuff. And be it true or not, I mean, that’s what we came there to do. We – we’re waiting for them.”
Giunta went on to say, “So my platoon was at its overlook post all day while 2nd Platoon spent time in the village, getting to know the elders. As they were preparing to leave, the sun was setting over the mountains. Night’s falling, we have Apache attack helicopters above us, flying around, you know, covering us. The platoon was breaking down its equipment, the soldiers were giving hand-and-arm signals, letting everyone know what’s about to happen, that we’re going to move back to the Korengal outpost. ”
The soldiers pushed out. But between 50 to 100 meters from where they had been all day, they walked into an L shaped ambush position. The enemy had correctly anticipated their route and had set up along the trail in a good position to wipe out the soldiers.
There were between 10 and 20 insurgents, but in the midst of battle, he added, “It all kind of goes blurry.” Everyone in his platoon came under a massive automatic weapons fire, a virtual wall of lead was thrown at them. In some spots the enemy was firing at them from a distance of about 20 feet. Everyone was hit as they scrambled for cover and returned fire. Many soldiers received multiple wounds. But, the platoon put up stiff resistance.
Giunta was hit in his chest protector, but not injured. He noted the fire was coming from an odd direction down a ditch line and not from the ambush position. Giunta moved forward in the direction from which he had been shot, expecting to link up with a fellow soldier, Sgt. Josh Brennan. What he didn’t realize was that Brennan had been badly wounded and was and being dragged away as a prisoner by the Taliban.
He and another soldier tossed hand grenades into the enemy positions ahead of them and then moved up quickly before they had a chance to recover and regroup.
The fighting was so close that the helicopters could not provide any cover; all they could do was watch. The second platoon moved to support Giunta, but they were quite some distance off and could offer no help.
The Taliban was trying to overrun them, presumably to take prisoners. Giunta then observed Sgt. Brennan being dragged down the hill by two Taliban. Giunta opened fire and killed one Taliban instantly and the other fled into the bushes. Giunta went to Brennan who was mortally wounded and dragged him back to a place of cover. Sgt. Brennan was shot in the face, abdomen and legs. Brennan told Giunta it felt like there was something in his mouth. It was his broken teeth, but Giunta said nothing. Brennan died later in surgery.
“I didn’t run to do anything heroic or to save – to save Brennan,” Giunta said. “Brennan, in my mind, wasn’t in trouble. I was just going to go up and I’m going to find Brennan and we’re going to shoot together, because it’s better to shoot with a buddy than be shooting alone.”
The platoon suffered deaths and casualties that day. The outpost has since been closed because it was too costly to be defended. Giunta was 22 years old at the time of this firefight.