Just starting high school in the state of Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, Kyle White felt a call to service. That feeling led him to enlist in the Army after graduating high school in 2006.
Less than two years later, at just 20 years old, White would face his own enemy attack with a maturity and bravery that former president Barack Obama would later say made White “a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation.”
On Nov. 8, 2007, members of White’s unit were in eastern Afghanistan for a meeting with village elders in a large community called Aranas. There had been little communication with the village after their suspected collusion on a major enemy attack months earlier on a former American post situated on the mountain overlooking the area that resulted in 11 wounded and the closure of the outpost.
Moving under cover of darkness, the Americans and squad of Afghan National Army, or ANA, soldiers, made for the American-built schoolhouse in the heart of the village, where they would bunk for the night.
Upon daybreak, the Americans and their ANA counterparts prepared for the meeting at the mosque. The villagers delayed the meeting — saying the elders were praying — for several hours until finally beginning in the afternoon.
Turnout for the meeting was unusually large. There were more questions and villager engagement than the Americans had experienced in the past. At first, team members were hopeful about the level of interest from the village males. Then, a team member alerted leadership that his interpreter was hearing radio chatter in a language he didn’t recognize and advised the platoon it was best to leave immediately.
Several villagers followed the unit to the shallow mountainside trail back to their base. The followers moved to the ridge above, and then the ridgelines echoed with small-arms fire. The enemy had initiated a three-pronged attack, simultaneously hitting the team, the scouts watching over of the patrol on the ridge to the southeast, and their home — Combat Outpost Bella.
Carrying a rifle, White emptied his magazine in the direction of the enemy fire. As White reloaded, an enemy rocket-propelled grenade detonated near his location, knocking him unconscious.
When White awoke, an enemy round fragmented near his head sending shrapnel into his face. Along with a few other platoon members, White was now cut-off from the rest of the patrol, whose members had been forced to slide down the cliff to the ground.
Wounded, White assessed the situation and saw that one of the U.S. soldiers with him, Spc. Kain Schilling, had been shot in the arm. He applied a tourniquet to the soldier’s arm, which stopped the bleeding. His radio had been hit in the previous gunfire, and the only concealment came from the loose canopy of a single tree jutting up from the side of the cliff below.
White now noticed that another troop was badly wounded – and in the open. White yelled to the man, Marine Corps Embedded Training Team member Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, to use all his strength and to crawl to his position. Although he tried, his wounds were too severe to make any progress. White then sprinted across the 10-meter expanse, with enemy rounds ricocheting around his feet and snapping past his head.
White began to drag the injured Marine in the direction of Schilling’s location. He realized the enemy fire was now concentrated on him, which was further endangering, so he sprinted back to the relative concealment of the tree canopy momentarily to draw enemy fire away from Bocks. White moved back to Bocks and dragged him a little further until the enemy fire was too concentrated. He then moved back to the relative shade of the tree. White did the sprint and drag several times, before finally getting Bocks to a more protected location. White applied a tourniquet to the man’s leg and treated him until he died from his wounds.
White then looked back to Schilling, and saw Schilling get hit again — this time in his leg. White sprinted to Schilling, pulled his own belt from his pants and tied it around the leg as a tourniquet, stopping the hemorrhaging.
Both soldiers’ radios had been destroyed in the gunfire. White moved back to Bocks location under enemy fire, hoping to locate a functional radio. Finding that Bocks’ radio was still operational, White established communication with friendly elements and began to provide a situation report. As the only troop capable of controlling his fighting position, White provided key information that enabled his company and battalion to sufficiently understand the situation and begin bringing mortars, artillery, airstrikes and helicopter gunship runs into the fight. This helped prevent the enemy from massing on the friendly positions.
After nightfall, White began giving the interpreter commands to relay to the ANA, and he established them into a security perimeter. The enemy was still conducting a recon by fire — shooting blindly into the darkness in hopes of having Americans return fire and reveal their location. White was able to consolidate the sensitive items — radios and weapons — in a central location, ensuring that no equipment was lost to the enemy.
Despite feeling his physical condition deteriorating, White requested immediate emergency transport of Schilling. He later explained he knew if he became unconscious from the multiple concussions he sustained, the helicopters wouldn’t be able to find them, and Schilling and the injured ANA soldiers could die.
White marked the landing zone and assisted the flight medic in hoisting the wounded soldiers into the helicopter. Only after all wounded were off the trail did White allow himself to be evacuated.
After more than four hours, the attack ended with the loss of six American lives, including White’s best friend, and many wounded.
“Everything I’ve done in my life after 9 November has been done to make them proud,” White said at his Medal of Honor ceremony, held at the White House May 13, 2014.
“The Medal of Honor is said to be the nation’s highest award for valor by one individual. But to me, it is much more,” White continued. “It is representation of the responsibility we accept as warriors and members of a team. It is a testament to the trust we have in each other and our leaders. Because of these reasons, a medal cannot be an individual award… that is why I wear this medal for my team.”
White is the seventh living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Afghanistan conflict. He left the military and now resides in North Carolina where he works in finance.
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