Army 2nd Lt. Joseph Guerra was out with friends on June 11, 2021 in downtown Columbus, Georgia, when a gunman opened fire, shooting three people.
Guerra, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division and combat veteran as a former enlisted medic, immediately pushed a fellow soldier to the ground and used his body to shield her from the gunshots, according to an Army news story.
“Initially I thought that maybe somebody was lighting off fireworks behind us, but it wasn’t until I turned my head that I saw there was an actual muzzle flash coming out of a barrel that I knew someone was shooting at us,” Guerra said in the news story.
After the gunmen fled, Guerra and another soldier provided medical assistance to three other people who had been shot.
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“I ran up, began treating my other friend inside of another establishment that they pulled him into once they found him, that he was shot,” Guerra recently told WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina.“I treated him and then I was told that a woman was shot that was behind the restaurant that we were inside of. I went back there and began treating her.”
Guerra stayed with them until paramedics arrived on the scene and took the gunshot victims to a local hospital.
Police later arrested the suspected gunman, who was accused of carrying out three shootings in less than 24 hours that wounded a total of five people, including the ones that Guerra helped to treat.
Now a first lieutenant, Guerra was presented with the Soldier’s Medal at an Aug. 11 ceremony at Fort Liberty, North Carolina – formerly Fort Bragg. The medal is the highest award that can be bestowed on soldiers for valor in non-combat situations.
Other recipients of the Soldier’s Medal include Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher, who rescued two people from a burning house; Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Shields, who disarmed a shooter at a high school football game; Sgt. Alexander Jabin, who pulled a man out of a burning vehicle; and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who pulled trapped comrades from a crashed helicopter in Vietnam, one of whom was Col. Jack Treadwell, a WWII Medal of Honor recipient.
Still, Guerra told WRAL-TV that he does not consider himself a hero.
“I think any of the guys that are in uniform would have done the same thing if they were in that situation,” Guerra told the television station.
Originally from Antioch, California, Guerra enlisted in the Army in June 2010 and became a 68W Combat Medic and later deployed to Afghanistan, according to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was commissioned after going through the Army’s Green to Gold program, which allows enlisted soldiers to earn their first baccalaureate or graduate degree.
His military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Valor, three Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, the Ranger Tab, Combat medical Badge, Expert Infantry Badge, Airborne Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Recruiter Badge.
At the Aug. 11 award ceremony one of the soldiers whom Guerra treated read his Soldier’s Medal citation, which says that Guerra’s actions on June 11, 2021 show what it takes to be a soldier both on- and off-duty.
“His selfless bravery in shielding a fellow officer from dangerous gunfire without regard to his own life or safety epitomizes what it means to be an American Soldier,” the citation says. “Second Lieutenant Guerra’s quick thinking and decisive action to render first aid following the horrific attack saved the life of three victims. Second Lieutenant Guerra’s selfless service, and willingness to expose himself to extreme personal danger reflect great credit upon him, the 82nd Airborne Division, and the United States Army.”
Task & Purpose was unable to reach Guerra on Wednesday.
For the Army’s news story, Guerra said that soldiers should take their training seriously because they could unexpectedly find themselves in a situation where they need to use what they’ve learned.
Army Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, told Guerra during the award ceremony that he should be very proud to receive the Soldier’s Medal, adding, “You have to live up to it, too.”
UPDATE: 08/16/2023; this story was updated with information from 1st Lt. Joseph Guerra’s service record.
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