WASHINGTON — It could have been over for Kyle J. White just 30 seconds into the firefight with the Taliban, when a rocket-propelled grenade knocked him unconscious.
But he came to and by the time the four-hour firefight in Afghanistan was over, White, reeling from concussions and shrapnel in his face, had saved one comrade’s life and helped secure the evacuation of other wounded Americans.
On Tuesday, White became only the seventh living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan, the latest reminder of the post-Sept. 11 conflicts and U.S. sacrifices President Barack Obama has sought to bring to an end
“We pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation,” Obama said.
With the medal, White, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome after the ambush, also draws attention to the recent scrutiny confronting the Veteran’s Affairs health care system and allegations of lapses in care and delays in mental health treatment.
Though Obama did not mention the VA controversies specifically, he told White: “You did your duty, and now it’s time for America to do ours: after more than a decade of war, to welcome you home with the support and the benefits and opportunities that you’ve earned.”
An Army account of the attack says White, then a 21-year-old Army specialist, and his team of 14 U.S. troops, along with Afghan National Army soldiers, were ambushed Nov. 9, 2007, after attempting to hold a meeting with village elders in the village of Aranas in Nuristan province.
During the exchange of fire, White was knocked unconscious. When he came to, he realized that most of his fellow Americans and all of the Afghans traveling with them had slid 150 feet down a rocky cliff for cover.
Left at the top with White were platoon leader 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, Spc. Kain Schilling, Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, who was imbedded with the group, and its interpreter. White set about trying to assess the condition of his fellow soldiers, running and crawling through gunfire only to find Ferrara dead and Bocks badly wounded. Though he tried to stop Bocks’ bleeding, the Marine later died.
Though suffering from concussions, White treated Schilling’s injuries and used one of the unit’s radios to call for help. When a helicopter arrived after nightfall, White only allowed himself to be evacuated after the wounded were assisted.
Schilling survived the attack and attended White’s Medal of Honor ceremony.
White retired from the Army in 2011 as a sergeant. He graduated from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte with a finance degree, and he now works as an investment analyst at a bank in Charlotte.
In his first public discussion of the attack, White said that after the ambush, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He urged veterans suffering from the illness to get help.
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