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Hero soldier who used own body as shield against active shooter awarded Soldier’s Medal

Soldier's Medal (US Army/Released)
August 17, 2023

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph Guerra was recently awarded the Soldier’s Medal in honor of his “heroic actions” during an incident with an active shooter in 2021.

The 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper received the Soldier’s Medal during an award ceremony on Aug. 11. According to the U.S. Army, Guerra, assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, demonstrated heroism and selflessness during an active shooting in Columbus, Georgia.

When a gunman opened fire upon Guerra and a group of friends on June 11, 2021, Guerra selflessly pushed his fellow soldier to the ground and covered her with his own body to shield her from the active shooter.

Prior to the award ceremony, Guerra explained, “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.”

After the shooter left the scene of the attack, Guerra and the other soldier provided first aid treatment for three individuals who had been injured in the shooting. The Army noted that Guerra remained with the three victims and continued to monitor the situation until paramedics were able to transport the victims to a nearby hospital.

Guerra’s Soldier’s Medal citation notes, “Second Lieutenant Guerra showed 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 for his own life or safety epitomizes what it means to be an American Soldier. 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.”

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During the recent award ceremony, Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, told Guerra, “You should be very proud of [receiving this award]. You have to live up to it too.”

“We often talk about the spirit of the American Paratrooper,” LaNeve said. “The courage of normal humans, attempting superhuman things for our country, our allies, the unit, and most importantly, for everything we do, for each other.”

According to the U.S. Army, the Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest individual honor that a soldier can be awarded for an action outside of combat. The honor is awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves by an act of heroism while not on duty and not involving combat with enemy forces.