Medal of Honor Recipient Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta Decides to Leave Army

Sal Giunta is first living recipient for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

February 8, 2011, 4:05 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2011 -- Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has decided to leave the Army and pursue a college education.

In a statement, Army spokesman George Wright confirmed that Giunta had decided not to re-enlist.

"Staff Sgt. Giunta will leave the U.S. Army in mid-June of this year. He and his wife are planning to move to Fort Collins, Colo., where he will continue his education using the GI Bill," Wright said.

Giunta received the nation's highest award for valor in November for his heroic actions in Afghanistan during an intense October 2007 firefight with Taliban insurgents in which two U.S. soldiers were killed and five were wounded.

During the firefight, Giunta ran headlong into enemy fire to rescue two wounded squadmates who were ahead of the rest of the squad. One of them was GIunta's best friend in the unit, Sgt. Josh Brennan, who was being dragged away by two Taliban fighters.

Giunta ran after the insurgents, firing rounds that killed one of the Taliban. The other dropped Brennan so he could flee into the woods. Brennan did not survive his wounds.

Ever since news broke that he was to receive the medal, the soft-spoken Giunta has maintained that any other soldier would have done what he did during the ambush to rescue his squadmates. He had served two tours of duty in Afghanistan since joining the Army in 2003.

"If I'm a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman, in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero; so if you think that that's a hero -- as long as you include everyone with me," Giunta said at a Pentagon briefing in September.

President Obama praised Giunta's humility when he presented him with the medal in November, calling him a soldier who is "as humble as he is heroic" who said "that he didn't do anything special, that he was just doing his job, that any of his brothers in the unit would do the same thing."

Medal of Honor Recipient Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta Decides to Leave Army

"We all just get a sense of people and who they are," Obama said. "And when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America's all about, and it just makes you proud. And so this is a joyous occasion for me, something that I have been looking forward to.

"You may believe that you don't deserve this honor, but it was your fellow soldiers who recommended you for it," Obama said.

Though stationed in Italy with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Giunta has spent a lot of time in the United States since being honored for having received the medal.

Ever humble, Giunta has become a popular figure. Among other things, Giunta dropped the ball at the New Year's celebration in New York's Times Square, he attended this year's State of the Union and he was most recently spotted on the sidelines of this weekend's Super Bowl.

ABC News' Martha Raddatz has maintained contact with Giunta since she first interviewed him in September. In conversations with him in recent months she says Giunta had debated whether to remain in the Army or pursue a college degree.

She said she got the sense that Giunta felt that if he remained in the Army it would be highly unlikely that he would serve again in combat or be anything more than a representative for the Medal of Honor.

Giunta is the ninth Medal of Honor recipient for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the previous medals were awarded posthumously.

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