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NCLS 2011
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta addresses the Air Force Academy Cadet Wing and guests during his keynote speech at the National Character and Leadership Symposium in Arnold Hall Feb. 24, 2011. Sergeant Guinta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, was one of three Medal recipients to speak at the Center for Character and Leadership Development's keystone event. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dennis Rogers)
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Medal of Honor recipient inspires with 'average' story

Posted 3/2/2011   Updated 3/2/2011 Email story   Print story


by Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

3/2/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- He just wanted a free T-shirt, but 7½ years and a Medal of Honor later, he found himself visiting the Air Force Academy with an uncommon message for cadets: being average.

Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta spoke to cadets and faculty here during his visit to participate in the 2011 National Character and Leadership Symposium Feb. 24-25.

Serving on both a Medal of Honor panel with retired Air Force Cols. George Day and Leo Thorsness and as a keynote speaker, Sergeant Giunta shared his experiences and inspirational testimony.

"Amongst the men and women I serve with, I am average, and I think that's incredibly inspiring because I'm not the fastest, strongest or the smartest, it's what we do as a team," he said. "I think so much of the fact that I am average, and how this is what happened to me, shows how much our average servicemembers sacrifice on a daily basis; I mean if I can do it, trust me -- anyone can."

Speaking to cadets and faculty, Sergeant Giunta said he hoped to impart a message of setting the standard as leaders.

"Lead by example: don't just tell people the best way to do it, show them the best way to do it," he said. "Don't be just part of a group -- lead them, be the first one there doing it. Show them that it can be done so they can push themselves further. I think that's what makes an incredible leader."

Ever humble about his actions during the Taliban ambush that thrust him into the spotlight, the Iowa native is quick to honor those with him on that ridge in 2007.

"That night that everyone was shooting and getting shot or being shot at, I was not the only one there. To stand up on a stage and to be asked how does this make you feel ... I feel like I'm wronging those guys I've served with, or those I've served along, underneath, above, in front of and behind," Sergeant Giunta said. "It's important to stress that because that's what it is; no one person does this alone. It's very important, incredibly important. It's the only reason why I'm still here. In no way, shape or form what I did was for myself -- it was for the man to the left of me and for the man to the right of me -- but nothing they ever did was for themselves, either. We are all in this together."

"So much of me wearing the Medal of Honor is because they had to give it to one person, but this represents all of us, not just Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines, this represents a whole group of young men and women serving in the Armed Forces of today who are willing to put their lives in danger in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world at any given time."

Sergeant Giunta also understands the individual and collective efforts for each of the service branches.

"We're all just members of a team," the sergeant said. "It's not the Army team, and it's not the Air Force team, and it's not the Navy team ... we don't have different objectives. We all have the same objective, and how we reach that is by binding together and creating a larger team and by using one another as assets to further our progress in the overall mission."

Also speaking at the 18th Annual NCLS was Sergeant Giunta's wife, Jennifer, who talked to audience members about those who supported her during deployments.

"I've had different friends and other spouses who have helped me along the way," Mrs. Giunta said. "Anybody can be a leader. You lean on other people and you learn to grow off each other. You can find a leader in anyone."

While visiting the Academy, Sergeant Giunta was treated to a glider orientation ride courtesy of the 94th Flying Training Squadron. He also had the pleasure of a tandem jump with instructors from the 98th Flying Training Squadron.

"I'm always stoked to jump out of a plane," he said. "It was a little cold but they put you at ease, they know exactly what they're doing. I just went along for the ride."

Of his experiences at the Academy, Sergeant Giunta said simply, "The Academy has been awesome, incredible!"

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