Sgt. Joe Giardino, left, and his commanding officer in Afghanistan, Capt. A.J. "Drew" Schoenmaker, display his first Bronze Star in 2009.
Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps
A Hanover Park native was recently awarded a second Bronze Star medal for acts of bravery in Afghanistan.
Marine squadron leader Sgt. Joe Giardino, 28, didn't think twice before springing to action during an insurgent ambush in Afghanistan in 2009. His squadron came under fire while securing an area in preparation for upcoming Afghan elections. Giardino maneuvered the group to join another squadron and directed both groups when high-frequency communications between them went down.
"I knew what I had to do," Giardino said. "I started talking to everyone from my radio -- the lieutenant, my captain -- and started directing them. It was no big deal."
A few days later, he and a dozen other Marines were ambushed from all directions. Giardino led his men to fight back, suppressing Afghan insurgents with no American casualties.
He received his Bronze Star medal in a ceremony last week at Camp Pendleton in California, where he is stationed.
Giardino received a letter along with his commendation detailing his heroism. His parents, though scared for his safety, were not surprised at their son's actions.
"When I read the story about what he did I was like, 'What are you, nuts?'" said his father, Vito Giardino. "He's so dedicated to what he does. He's strong. I'm like, 'I'm glad your mom didn't know about that.'"
Joe Giardino joined the Marines after Sept. 11 and served three tours in Iraq in addition to his most recent tour in Afghanistan. His first Bronze Star came last year when he was commended for his heroism during a 2005 insurgent attack on an American observation post. Earlier in his career, he received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered when a roadside bomb in Iraq drove shrapnel into his neck.
Giardino speaks humbly about his military decorations, deflecting any extra attention to his squadron members, whom he said acted more courageously than he.
"In his heart, he truly believes he's just doing his job," his mother, Sue Giardino, said. "He does not believe he has done anything that any other Marine would not have done."
Giardino is on medical leave after a recent head surgery to treat a chiari malformation, a neurological condition where the cerebellum of the brain descends and puts pressure on the spinal cord. The condition is becoming more common among soldiers exposed to frequent explosions.
He returns to the Marines on Aug. 30, when a medical review board will decide whether to medically discharge him or allow him to finish his remaining five months.
Sue Giardino is raising funds for a Sept. 18 Conquer Chiari Walk in Palatine. To donate or participate on her team, call (630) 730-4520 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.