Learning from Sergeant Giunta
By Col. Courtney Arnold, 302nd Airlift Wing vice commander
/ Published January 08, 2011
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- On the night of Oct. 25, 2007, during a patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan, seven U.S. Army Soldiers were ambushed in a well-coordinated attack by Taliban fighters. On that night, the heroic actions of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta earned himself a place in history as the first living member since Vietnam to be awarded the Medal of Honor. In the space of what was estimated to be less than a minute, Sergeant Giunta pushed forward through the ambush, directed counter-fire on the insurgents, and in the face of intense enemy fire, single-handedly saved a fellow Soldier from being captured.
In spite of being outnumbered and under extreme enemy fire, the Taliban insurgents were defeated.
When you think of a Medal of Honor recipient, do the words "mediocre" or "average" come to mind? Those aren't the words I'd use. Yet, those are the exact words the sergeant used to describe himself in numerous interviews leading up to his medal ceremony. Anyone familiar with his story would instead use words like "courageous" or "brave" to describe his actions.
But it is Sergeant Giunta who argues he was just "doing as he was trained," and that he did exactly what any member of his squad would have done. I believe this trait of humility is the cornerstone of an effective organization; that the individual sees his or her actions as part of a larger process that will give their team or organization the best, possible chance at success. They don't see themselves as the team; instead, they are a part of the team.
During the ambush, Sergeant Giunta charged directly into fire to link up with his separated squad leader. When asked why he did this, he said, "It's better to shoot with a buddy than to shoot alone." By joining with his leader, Sergeant Giunta thought together they could give the team the best chance of survival. It's the unconscious and unflinching decision to stick together for a common goal, no matter what, that keeps the organization strong and most able to be successful.
These two examples of humility and putting one's team first shows us what it takes to build a successful organization. As members of the Armed Forces, we all have the great fortune to work with dedicated and focused patriots. All of you deserve great praise for your self-sacrifice and the service each of you performs for your country. I cannot think of a better way to praise all of you than to borrow the words of Sergeant Giunta when asked if he thought of himself as a hero, "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's a hero - as long as you include everyone with me."