A former U.S. Army sergeant turned investment analyst was awarded the nation’s highest military decoration Tuesday, becoming the seventh living recipient of the Medal of Honor who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Kyle J. White, a Royal Bank of Canada investment analyst in Charlotte, N.C., was given the award by President Barack Obama for his actions when his unit was ambushed in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province on Nov. 9, 2007.
“Today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation,” Obama said at a White House ceremony.
At the time, White, now 27, was a platoon radio telephone operator with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and had been enlisted in the Army for a year and a half.
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According to an Army account, White’s 14-member team was on foot when it was ambushed by Taliban fighters in a mountainous region after a meeting with Afghan villagers. Six soldiers died and others were seriously wounded. During the firefight, White was knocked unconscious when a rocket-propelled grenade detonated nearby.
“Medals are not won by men; if that were true, the Taliban would have won on that trail in Afghanistan,” White told reporters after the ceremony. “Without the team, there could be no Medal of Honor. I wear this medal for my team.”
He and three other members of the unit were cut off from the rest of the platoon on the mountainside. White provided first aid to one of the soldiers and then ran into the open to drag another comrade to cover, all the while coming under fire, according to the Army account.
Though suffering from a concussion, White continued aiding his wounded fellow soldiers and used a radio to coordinate a counterattack and direct a medical evacuation.
“One battalion commander remembered that all of Afghanistan was listening” to the fight via White on the radio, Obama said.
White said that while he was pinned down he thought it was only a matter of time before he was dead.
“I told myself that I was going to die,” he said in an interview published Monday in the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes.” “There’s no doubt in my mind I was not going to make it off that cliff that day. It was, you know, ‘If I am going to die, I’m going to help my battle buddies until it happens.’”
White left the active-duty Army in May 2011. He also has been awarded the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal, among other honors. He left the service and received a bachelor of science degree from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, where he now lives.
In March, Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 U.S. Army veterans for their valor in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The recipients that day – only three of whom were still living – had been passed over for the honor because of their race or religion. They were the single largest group of service members to receive the Medal of Honor since World War II.