President Obama awards former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White the Medal of Honor during a May 13 ceremony at the White House. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)
President Obama applauds the newest Medal of Honor recipient, former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White, during a May 13 ceremony at the White House. (AP)
Former Sgt. Kyle White on Tuesday became the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient.
White, who was honored for his actions in November 2007 in Afghanistan, received the nation’s highest award for valor from President Obama during a ceremony at the White House.
“We honor Kyle White for his extraordinary actions on that November day,” Obama said in his remarks. “Today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation – 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 173rd Airborne.”
As White repeatedly braved enemy fire to reach his wounded and fallen comrades, he “could feel the pressure of the rounds going by him, but, somehow, miraculously, they never hit him,” Obama said. “Not once. One of his teammates said it was as if Kyle was moving ‘faster than a speeding bullet.’”
Across Afghanistan, base commanders were “glued to their radios, listening as the Americans fought off the ambush,” the president said.
“One battalion commander remembered that ‘all of Afghanistan’ was listening as a soldier on the ground described what was happening,” Obama said. “They knew him by his call sign, ‘Charlie One Six Romeo.’ We know it was Kyle, who at the time was just 20 years old and only 21 months into his military service.”
After the events of that deadly November day, White continued to serve out his 15-month deployment, and when the time came to leave the Army, he moved on, got a degree and now works for a bank in Charlotte, Obama said.
White is a “proud veteran welcomed into his community, contributing his talents and skills to the progress of our nation.”
However, “the transition to civilian life and dealing with the post-traumatic stress hasn’t always been easy,” Obama said.
“More than six years later, he can still see the images and hear the sounds of that battle,” he said. “Every day, he wakes up thinking about his battle buddies. And if you look closely at that man in the suit on his way to work, you’ll notice the piece of the war that he carries with him, tucked under his shirt sleeve, a stainless steel bracelet around his wrist etched with the names of his six fallen comrades who will always be with him.”
White is motivated by the sacrifice of his fallen brothers, Obama said.
“He says, ‘Everything I do in my life is done to make them proud,’” the president said.
Dressed in the Army Service Uniform, White looked solemn and emotional as he stood beside Obama, finally cracking a smile after the ceremony.
Obama lauded White and his fellow soldiers.
“You make us proud, and you motivate all of us to be the best we can be,” he said.
White was honored for his actions on Nov. 8, 2007, during a deadly enemy ambush in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province.
Five soldiers and one Marine were killed that day.
White, then a specialist with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, is credited with repeatedly running the gauntlet of enemy fire to get to the wounded and fallen. When the shooting stopped and night fell, White, who was barely 20 years old, cared for a wounded brother, called in steady radio reports, directed security and guided in close-air support until the medevac birds were able to come and evacuate the wounded and the dead.
“I do not consider myself a hero,” White said a day before the White House ceremony. “To me, the real heroes are the ones I fought with that day.”
White is the seventh living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Seven service members were posthumously awarded the medal for their actions in those wars.
White also will be the second soldier from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment to receive the nation's highest valor award for actions in Afghanistan.
Former Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta was the first living service member to be honored for his actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Giunta and White deployed together in the same battalion in May 2007 for a 15-month deployment to some of the toughest parts of eastern Afghanistan.