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Obama awards Medal of Honor to Afghan war soldier who stood by his team under ambush

May 13, 2014 at 6:48 PM EST
At the White House, former Army Sgt. Kyle White was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor for valor. President Obama recalled White’s bravery in a 2007 incident in Afghanistan when his platoon came under surprise attack. White sprinted through enemy fire to take care of a teammate with a shattered arm, and ensured his safe lift out by helicopter.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: At the White House today, former Army Sergeant Kyle White was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor for valor.

President Obama recalled White’s bravery in a 2007 battle in Afghanistan, when his platoon came under surprise attack.

The scene was the White House East Room, as the commander in chief presented the Medal of Honor to Sergeant White, now retired.

(APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president recounted White’s gallantry after his platoon was ambushed in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province in November 2007.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Earlier that afternoon, Kyle and the 13 members of his team, along with a squad of Afghan soldiers, left an Afghan village after a meeting with elders. The Americans made their way back up a steep hill — single file, along a narrow path, a cliff face rising to their right, and a slope of rocky shale dropping on their left.

They knew not to stop, that they had to keep moving. They were headed into an area known as Ambush Alley.

And that’s when a single shot rang out, then another. And then an entire canyon erupted, with bullets coming from what seemed like every direction. It was as if, Kyle said, the whole valley lit up.

The platoon returned fire. Kyle quickly emptied a full magazine, but as he went to load a second, an enemy grenade exploded and knocked him unconscious. He came to with his face pressed against a rock. And as he moved to get up, enemy rounds hit a rock just inches from his head, sending shrapnel and rock shards across his face.

Most of the unit had been forced to slide down the cliff to the valley below. But Kyle saw a teammate — Specialist Kain Schilling — trying to treat his own shattered arm, using a tree as cover — what Kain later called the smallest tree on Earth. I’m sure that’s how it felt.

Kyle sprinted through enemy fire to Kain’s side and began applying a tourniquet — shielding Kain with his own body as gunfire shredded that tree.

JUDY WOODRUFF: White also ducked bullets to get to his platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant Matthew Ferrara, and Marine Sergeant Phillip Bocks. Both men ultimately died of their wounds. And even after the shooting stopped, White kept going.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Kyle stayed with Specialist Schilling as night fell. And Kain was too badly injured to move. Kyle was starting to feel the fog of his own concussions set in, but he knew that he was Kain’s best chance to get out alive, so Kyle took charge and ordered the Afghan soldiers to form a security perimeter.

He called in a medevac and made sure Kain and the other injured were safely on board. And only then did Kyle finally allow himself to be lifted out.

As the helicopter pulled away, Kyle looked out the window, watching the darkness as they pulled away from that single tree on the cliff. “When you’re deployed,” he later said, “those people become your family. What you really care about is, I want to get this guy to the left and to the right home.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Afterward, White spoke briefly outside the White House.

SGT. KYLE WHITE (RET.), Medal of Honor Recipient: Battles are not won by men. If that were true, the Taliban would have won on that trail in Afghanistan because they had every tactical advantage, including the numbers.

Battles are won by spirit. And spirit is present in the relationships built from trust and sacrifice we share with one another in times of hardship, and, by that definition, cannot be possessed by one person.

Without the team, there could be no Medal of Honor. That is why I wear this medal for my team.

JUDY WOODRUFF: White retired from the Army in 2011. He now works as an investment analyst at a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina.