WASHINGTON — President Obama next month will present the Medal of Honor to a former Bonney Lake resident, Army Sgt. Kyle J. White, who put his own life at risk in an hourslong effort to save fellow service members during a 2007 ambush in Afghanistan.
White, 27, who left the Army in 2011, will be the seventh living recipient of the nation’s highest military honor for actions in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He will receive the medal — given to service members who distinguish themselves by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty — at the White House May 13.
White was serving as a radiotelephone operator when his team of 14 U.S. soldiers, along with Afghan National Army soldiers, was ambushed at a meeting with village elders in Aranas, Afghanistan, says an Army account of the attack. The U.S. soldiers had been wary of heading to the village because local residents were suspected of collusion that had resulted in a major attack on a U.S. outpost months earlier.
White told the Army that the turnout for the village meeting was unusually large, as was the number of questions asked. During the meeting, the group’s interpreter started receiving radio traffic in a language he didn’t understand and the platoon leader was advised to leave the area.
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Before White and his fellow soldiers could depart, they were attacked by gunfire from multiple directions. White was knocked unconscious, and when he came to, he realized most of his fellow soldiers and all of the Afghans with them were gone, having slid 150 feet down a rocky cliff for cover.
The Army account says the only men left up top were White, platoon leader 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, Spc. Kain Schilling, Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks and the group’s interpreter. White set about trying to assess their condition, running and crawling through gunfire as he made his way toward them.
Ferrara was dead and Bocks badly wounded. White repeatedly exposed himself to gunfire as he tried to pull Bocks into a covered area.
“I knew he needed help, and there was a lot of fire coming in, but it really didn’t matter at that point, but by then I already had known … it’s just a matter of time before I’m dead,” White says
on the Army website. “I figured, if that’s going to happen, I might as well help someone while I can.”
Despite White’s efforts, Bocks later died.
“I can remember thinking he wasn’t going to make it, but I knew I wasn’t going to stop trying,” White said. “No matter what the outcome, I’m going to do what I can.”
Suffering from concussion himself, White also treated Schilling’s injuries, even using his own belt as a tourniquet on Schilling’s leg.
Bocks’ radio was still working, so White used it to call for help, which didn’t arrive until after nightfall. When a helicopter did arrive, White allowed himself to be evacuated only after the wounded.
“During a long dark night, Spc. White’s uncommon valor and perseverance saved lives,” Lt. Col. William B. Ostlund, battalion commander, Task Force Rock, said in a 2008 statement. “Extraordinary and consistently selfless actions by a young paratrooper.”
Schilling survived the attack and plans to be at the White House next month.
White grew up in Bonney Lake and joined the Army in 2006. He originally wanted to join the Marine Corps, but his father, a Vietnam-era Special Forces soldier, persuaded him to join the Army and be a paratrooper, according to White’s biography on the Army website.
After White retired from the Army, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business. He’s now an investment analyst at a Charlotte, N.C., bank.
Earlier this month, the three most recent Medal of Honor recipients from Washington state were recognized in a public ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Olympia.
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter and Capt. William Swenson all received the nation’s highest military honor for risking life in combat, beyond the call of duty, in the Afghanistan war.
After the ceremony with Gov. Jay Inslee and the commander of the 7th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Terry Farrell, the three saw their names unveiled on the state Medal of Honor Monument.
Material from The Associated Press, Seattle Times reporter Paige Cornwell, McClatchy News Service and Seattle Times archives was used in this report.