Tonight, I watched Lara Logan of 60 Minutes report on Medal of Honor recipient Salvatore Giunta and his courageous Army platoon. Please click on the link below, and appreciate the amazing sacrifice our soldiers make for our country. I am certain these acts of enormous bravery happen every week in Afghanistan, but unfortunately the stories are never told.
The summary of the events that took place in the Korengal Valley are below.
Shortly after nightfall on October 25, 2007, rifle team leader Giunta and the rest of the seven troops of 1st Platoon had just finished a day-long over watch of 2nd and 3rd Platoon in the valley below. Although dark, there was sufficient moonlight that night vision equipment was not needed. They were returning to Combat Outpost Vimoto and Korengal Outpost. They walked about 10 to 15 feet (3.0–4.6 m) apart through the thin holly forest, along the Gatigal Spur of Honcho Hill at about 2,438 meters (7,999 ft) elevation. Within 50 to 100 meters (160–330 ft) of leaving their position, 10 to 15 insurgents ambushed the main body of the squad from cover and concealment only about 10 meters (33 ft) away,so near that the Apaches overhead could not provide close air support. The ambushing force was armed with AK-47 assault rifles, 10 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers and three belt-fed guns. They fired an unusually high proportion of tracer rounds. Giunta described it later:
Ambush on October 25
The ambush was initiated with intense RPG and PKM fire Giunta’s squad used grenades to suppress enemy fire. Sergeant Joshua Brennan, leader of alpha team and one of Giunta’s best friends, was walking point. He was followed by SPC Frank Eckrode, squad leader Erick Gallardo, and then Giunta, who was then a specialist. PFC Kaleb Casey and Garret Clary followed Giunta. A 13-man Headquarters (HQ) unit led by Lt. Brad Winn, including a five-man gun team from weapons squad,along with a nurse who volunteered for the mission, followed immediately behind them. When the Taliban opened fire, Brennan was struck by eight rounds and Eckrode was hit by four rounds. Gallardo attempted to sprint forward, but RPGs exploding among the thin trees and 18 inches (46 cm)-high bushes around him along with machine gun and small arms fire stopped him. Unable to advance, he fell back to join Giunta’s bravo team. While backpedaling and firing at the same time, he fell and was in the same moment struck in the helmet by an AK-47 round. An RPG round struck very near Giunta, who was returning fire and directing bravo team from a small defilade. Giunta was puzzled that the lip of the small depression he lay in was not protecting him from rounds cracking by his head that they appeared to be coming from the north as well as the west.
Giunta saw Gallardo take the bullet to his head and fall. Assuming Gallardo had been shot, Giunta rose and ran through the intense wall of fire to his side. As he helped the uninjured sergeant find cover, the ceramic plate in the front of Giunta’s protective vest was struck by a bullet. Another round struck the SMAW-D weapon slung over his back. Giunta recognized that the extremely heavy tracer fire was coming not just from his west but from the north as well, a classic L-shaped ambush that threatened to roll over the squad. He ordered Casey and Clary to pull back a few steps to prevent the Taliban from flanking them. Casey was firing his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon cyclic and Clary was firing his M203 grenade launcher as well.
The platoon leader in the HQ unit, Lieutenant Brad Winn, radioed Captain Kearney to advise him that their unit had five wounded men. The squad’s medic, Specialist Hugo Mendoza, was among them. He had been shot through the femoral artery at the beginning of the ambush and died. Kearney ordered Second Platoon to assist Winn’s platoon, but Second Platoon was in the valley below, some distance away, and had to first cross a river to reach them.
Giunta and Gallardo gathered Casey and Clary. They were pinned down by the concentrated small arms and cyclic machine gun fire from a number of Taliban positions at close range. Less than 15 seconds into the ambush, Giunta and his men acted to disrupt the attack. They alternated throwing volleys of fragmentation grenades towards the Taliban about 15 meters (49 ft) to their west and moving north. Firing Pfc. Casey’s M249, Clarey’s M203, and their other weapons, they advanced until they reached Eckrode. Shot twice in one leg and with two other wounds, Eckrode was attempting to unjam his M249 SAW. Gallardo, who later received a Silver Star for his actions, dressed Eckrode’s wounds and called for MEDEVAC.
Giunta, seeing that Eckrode was tended to, continued with Pfc. Clary to advance over the exposed, open ground of the ridge in the dark, looking for Brennan. When they could not locate him where they expected to find him, they ran after the retreating Taliban. The anti-coalition militia covered their rear with effective small arms fire but the Americans ran after them. Giunta saw three individuals and then recognized that two of them were Afghans dragging Sgt. Brennan, one by the legs and one by his arms. Giunta pursued them, firing his M4 carbine as he ran, killing one (later identified as Mohammad Tali, considered a high-value target). The second Afghan dropped Brennan and fled. A Spectre AC130 gunship shortly afterward spotted someone carrying Brennan’s rucksack and killed him. Giunta said, “I ran through fire to see what was going on with [Brennan] and maybe we could hide behind the same rock and shoot together … He was still conscious. He was breathing. He was asking for morphine. I said, ‘You’ll get out and tell your hero stories,’ and he was like, ‘I will, I will.
After reaching Brennan, Giunta pulled him back towards the rest of the squad and cover, comforted him, and examined him for wounds in the dark. Brennan was grievously hurt. The 2nd and 3rd Platoons arrived to reinforce their squad and render aid. Giunta continued to assist the medic and adjust security while they waited for evacuation.
The ambush had lasted three minutes. Later the next day, Brennan died while in surgery. Gallardo told Giunta later on, “You don’t understand . . . but what you did was pretty crazy. We were outnumbered. You stopped the fight. You stopped them from taking a soldier.” Eckrode said of Giunta. “For all intents and purposes, with the amount of fire that was going on in the conflict at the time, he shouldn’t be alive.”