America Welcomes its Newest Medal of Honor Recipient

Bullets fell around the soldiers illuminating the sky like lightning during a thunderstorm. Trying to fight back, Sergeant Kyle White loaded his rifle with a second round of ammunition. Then, a grenade exploded right before him and he was violently thrown to the ground. The blast so strong, it knocked him unconscious.

At just 21 years old, White was 21 months into his career with the U.S. Army when he and 14 other members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, were ambushed. On November 9, 2007, the Platoon Radio Telephone Operator and his fellow comrades were serving in the Nuristan Province, Afghanistan and were hiking up a steep hill on their way to meet with village elders. The area they were in, nicknamed “ambush alley,” was a canyon that changed their lives.

As his awareness came back, White had the grim realization that many of those around him were injured. His comrades and his buddies were in serious danger. Not far from him, he saw a friend using a tree as a shield struggling to treat his own broken arm. Without hesitation, White sprinted through the bullets to his side. The young man protected his fellow soldier and applied first aide without any concern for his own safety.

Then, he fearfully recognized his radio was not working and across the way, another man was in the open and gravely injured. White distracted the enemy fire as he ran to help pull his comrade to cover and stayed by the soldier’s side as the wounds took his life. Continuing to fight, helping his fellow men and risking his life, White saw the soldier he was helping earlier had been wounded again. He wrapped a tourniquet around the man’s leg and finally found a working radio to call for help. It was a miracle he wasn’t hit.

Back at base, the voice of Charlie One Six Romeo came over the receiver describing in detail the horrific situation. As night fell, the extent of White’s head injury set in and he decided to call a medevac. It was not until the other wounded soldiers were safely on board, that he allowed himself to be airlifted out.

“When you’re deployed, those people become your family,” President Barack Obama quoted White. “What you really care about is I want to get this guy to the left and to the right home.” White represents today’s image of American bravery.  

On May 13, Obama welcomed former Sgt. White and his family, to an intimate White House ceremony and presented him the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat that November day. Obama recognized White’s story as a depiction of the trials and tribulations faced by the nation’s heroes fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Today we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation,” said Obama in his speech.  “A young man who was a freshman in high school when the Twin Towers fell, and who just five years later became an elite paratrooper with the legendary 173 airborne - the sky soldiers.”

After serving for over a year in Afghanistan, the Seattle-native returned to the United States and trained other paratroopers preparing to deploy. Like many of today’s servicemen and women, he attended college with the help of the post 9/11 GI Bill. White graduated from the University of North Carolina and has started a successful career in the banking industry. He also serves as an advocate for military education and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In many ways, he is a normal 27-year-old. He is living in Charlotte, North Carolina, has a girlfriend and a career. Unlike most men his age, he carries the memories of war and the trauma of battle. Now, he carries the Medal of Honor for the six soldiers that lost their lives on November 6, 2007.

“Their sacrifice motivates me to be the best I can be,” Obama quoted White. “Everything I do in my life is done to make them proud.”

Hudson, David. “President Obama Awards the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Kyle J. White.” The White House. The White House, 13 May 2014. Web. 22 may 2014.