Medal of Honor to be presented to living soldier

As Dave at Ace’s says, “Finally.”

Salvatore Giunta, a 22-year-old Army specialist from Hiawatha, Iowa, was knocked flat by the gunfire; luckily, a well-aimed round failed to penetrate his armored chest plate. As the paratroopers tried to gather their senses and scramble for a shred of cover, Giunta reacted instinctively, running straight into the teeth of the ambush to aid three wounded soldiers, one by one, who had been separated from the others.

Two paratroopers died in the Oct. 25, 2007, attack, and most of the others sustained serious wounds. But the toll would have been far higher if not for the bravery of Giunta, according to members of his unit and Army officials.

On Friday, the White House announced that President Obama decided to award Giunta, now a staff sergeant, the Medal of Honor.

It has long been my belief that soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been held to a different standard, in terms of valor, than soldiers in previous wars. During and after the Vietnam War, there was a widespread belief in the ranks that awards for valor had been cheapened by low standards. I tend to believe that- but with a major caveat: if you look at the citations for the Medal of Honor during that war, you’d be hard pressed to find any awards that didn’t merit such recognition.

In the current wars, I’m sure the defense bureaucracy has been hesitant to cheapen awards by giving them too freely. But if the standard of review has swung too far in compensation, the awards loose just as much meaning. And there is a widespread perception in the veteran community that politics have kept the Medal of Honor from being presented to a living recipient.

Defense Department officials say the criteria for the medal have not changed. But veterans groups, lawmakers and even some high-ranking military officials have questioned the official explanations. The relative lack of medals from Iraq and Afghanistan, they argue, has contributed to a lack of public appreciation of the sacrifices made by U.S. troops during the past nine years of war.

“The whole thing is very political in the end, that’s one of the sad things about it,” said Joseph A. Kinney, an author and Vietnam veteran who has testified before Congress about the paucity of medals. “I think they just decided they were going to avoid awards of that nature” for Iraq and Vietnam.

I’m pleased to see that finally the Army, the DoD and the White House have seen fit to recognize the actions of a soldier who has brought great credit to himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

But let us not forget, even while SSG Giunta lives and breathes, another soldier made the ultimate sacrifice while earning his award:

On October 6, President Barack Obama will award Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Staff Sergeant Miller will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroic actions in Afghanistan on January 25, 2008. He displayed immeasurable courage and uncommon valor – eventually sacrificing his own life to save the lives of his teammates and 15 Afghanistan National Army soldiers. Staff Sergeant Miller’s parents, Phil and Maureen Miller will join the President at the White House to commemorate their son’s selfless service and sacrifice.

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