Former Army Sgt. Kyle White is uncomfortable with being called a hero. But after receiving the Medal of Honor on May 13, he realizes that he cannot avoid the label.
White received the nation’s highest award for military valor in recognition of his actions during a patrol in the steep, rugged mountains near Aranas in eastern Afghanistan. He was serving as a radiotelephone operator with C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade when his team of U.S. and Afghan National Army troops were ambushed on Nov. 9, 2007, by a larger and more heavily armed Taliban force after a meeting with Afghan villagers.
After being knocked unconscious by an enemy grenade, White, barely 20 at the time, regained consciousness as bullet fragments spattered his face. Despite his wounds, White repeatedly braved enemy fire to try to save his comrades, including former Spc. Kain Schilling. Twice during the battle, White used tourniquets, one of them his own belt, to prevent a severely wounded Schilling from bleeding to death.
“I’m here today because of Kyle’s actions. He not only saved my life, but the lives of many others,” Schilling told reporters.
White didn’t think he’d survive the battle.
“I told myself that I was going to die. You know, there’s no doubt in my mind I was not going to make it off that cliff that day. And so in my mind [I thought], if I am going to die, I’m going to help my battle buddies until it happens,” he recalled.
White repeatedly ran out into the open to try to save Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks, who was badly wounded.
“All the fire was focused on us. And, you know, I kind of came to the conclusion that they weren’t trying to hit Bocks [but] they were trying to shoot me. And so I knew the longer I dragged him and they focused their fire on me, the greater [the] chance [of] him getting hit again was. And so what I did was just kind of dragged him like 5-10 feet … and then [I’d] run back to where Kain was just to try to draw their fire and have them follow me and leave [Bocks] alone. And so, you know, I’d run back to Kain’s position [and] wait just a few seconds until [the Taliban] get distracted, and then repeat the movement until we got back to Kain, you know, behind the concealment of the tree canopy…[But] obviously some artery had been hit. So I tried to just control the bleeding as much as I could, but [Bocks] ended up dying,” White told Stars and Stripes.
After a near miss, White used a radio to help direct air and mortar strikes against the Taliban to keep the enemy at bay.
“I was pulling the hand mic off of [the] kit … [and] it just flew out of my hand. ... I didn’t quite understand what that was. And I picked it up again, and there was a bullet hole clean through it,” he said.
The incoming mortars were landing so close, they almost killed White, and he ended up with a concussion.
“I remember just red hot chunks of metal like the size of my palm just flinging by my head,” he said.
After nightfall, White organized a security perimeter with the Afghan soldiers who had joined him and Schilling.
“I was the only able-bodied American at my position. And trying to cover 360 [degrees] in the middle of a war zone ... you get that very lonely feeling out there,” he said.
After medevac arrived, White made sure that all the other wounded troops were onboard the helicopters before he left.
Six American servicemembers didn’t survive the fight. To honor their memory, White wears a stainless-steel bracelet with the names of his fallen battle buddies etched into it.
“They are my heroes,” he said.
White has thrived after leaving the military, despite struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He used his G.I. Bill benefits to attend the University of North Carolina, and now works as an investment analyst at the Royal Bank of Canada in Charlotte.