Former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White became the latest recipient of the nation's highest award for combat heroism on Tuesday when President Barack Obama presented him with the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony.
White received the medal for heroic actions on Nov. 9, 2007, when a team of 14 U.S. service members and an Afghan Army squad were ambushed near the village of Aranus, Afghanistan. White, a specialist at the time, repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire while aiding fellow soldiers.
"You have done your duty. Now it's time for us as Americans to do ours," Obama said just before placing the medal around White's neck.
In addition to White's family members, some of those who served with the former NCO also attended the ceremony in the East Room of the White House, including Spc. Kain Schilling, a soldier whose life White saved during the battle.
Obama said White embodies "the courage of his generation."
"You motivate all of us to be the best we can be as Americans [and] as a nation," he said.
White, who was an Army specialist at the time of the fight, is the tenth American service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor for combat in Afghanistan. Three of the awards were presented posthumously.
White, now 27, was a platoon radio operator with C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, operating out of Combat Outpost Bella when a mixed U.S-Afghan team was returning from a meeting with village elders in Aranas. The village was suspected of collaborating with enemy forces months earlier when an attack on another outpost left 11 troops wounded and resulted in the evacuation of the camp.
Platoon leader 1st Lt. Matthew Ferrera cut short the Aranas meeting when Sgt. Phillip Bocks picked up radio chatter in the vicinity from an unrecognized source, according to the Army's chronology of the attack.
Several villagers accompanying the troops back to their outpost suddenly broke off and headed to the ridgelines, from which enemy fighters opened up with small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire.
"The enemy initiated a three-pronged attack," the Army said, including from the ridge, and from the rear and ahead of the patrol.
White, in an interview with reporters on Monday, said he heard a single shot, then two shots, "and then the whole valley erupted."
"And then RPGs and fully automatic fire came in from it seemed like every direction," he told a media roundtable that included the newspaper Stars & Stripes.
An exploding RPG briefly knocked White unconscious. He came to just in time for an enemy round to shatter on a nearby rock and send shrapnel into his face, the Army said.
As the fight continued, White deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire as he sought to reach and treat several wounded men. After tying a tourniquet around the wounded arm of Spc. Kain Schilling, he dodged enemy fire to race about 10 meters to Bocks, who was wounded in the leg and arm and out in the open.
With the enemy targeting him, White alternately dragged Bocks a ways toward Schilling's position and then raced for cover to draw fire away from the wounded man.
"He did the sprint and drag several times before finally getting Bocks to a more protected location," the Army states. White then applied a tourniquet to the Bocks' leg and treated the wound to his left shoulder but the Marine eventually died from his wounds.
By this time White could see that Schilling had taken another hit, this one to his leg, and he was bleeding badly. He raced back to him and used his belt for a tourniquet.
White then saw their platoon leader, Ferrera, face down on the trail. He again sprinted through the enemy fire to reach the officer. Ferrera was already dead. White made his way back to the wounded Schilling, discovering when he went to call for assistance that his and Schilling's radios had been destroyed by gunfire.
Still under fire he returned to where Bocks had died, finding the Marine's radio still operational. He was then able to call in their situation, and U.S. forces responded with mortar and artillery, air strikes and helicopter gunships, support that prevented the enemy from overrunning the patrol.
But White was concussed again, this time by friendly fire, when a 120mm mortar round exploded nearby. The Army said he "shook off the effects of the blast" in time to hear Schilling call out to get onto the radio again.
Now into the night, White directed the Afghan National Army interpreter to relay information to the ANA forces to have them establish a security perimeter around the platoon. The enemy was still firing on the platoon through the darkness, even though they could not see the soldiers.
All the while White kept in touch with the tactical operations center on the status of a medevac. According to the Army's report White fought to stay awake as the hours ticked by and the RBG and mortar concussions began taking a toll on him.
"As he felt his physical condition deteriorating, he decided to request immediate medevac of Schilling," the Army said. "He knew if he passed out, the helicopters wouldn't be able to find them, and Schilling and the injured Afghan National Army soldiers could die."
White marked the landing zone and helped the flight medic in hoisting the wounded into the helicopter. Only after all wounded were off the trail did White allow himself to be evacuated, the Army said.
"After more than four hours, the three-pronged attack ended with the loss of six American lives and many wounded," the Army said. "Spc. Kyle White exhibited extraordinary personal bravery distinguishing himself above his comrades. He took charge of his element, arranged security and provided critical aid to wounded soldiers in terrain with little cover or concealment."
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org