When President Barack Obama draped the Medal of Honor around former Army Sgt. Kyle White’s neck, the Charlotte man became just the seventh living recipient of the nation’s highest military honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It wasn’t until after Obama shook White’s hand that emotions overcame the 27-year-old.
His eyes welled up and his cheeks reddened as he looked out at his parents and fellow soldiers standing and applauding. In addition to his parents, Cheryl and Curt, White was also joined by his girlfriend and members of his unit in Afghanistan, the 2nd Battalion, Chosen Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Obama praised White’s valor under the most extreme conditions when, on Nov. 9, 2007, his platoon was ambushed on the side of a mountain in Aranas, Afghanistan. White endured two concussions and shrapnel in his face, yet he kept firing his rifle to keep the enemy back and pulled wounded soldiers to cover during the deadly firefight that killed six Americans and three Afghan National Army soldiers. Eight other American soldiers were wounded.
“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.”
Originally from Pierce County, Wash., White left the Army in 2011 and now works as an investment analyst in Charlotte.
On that November night in 2007, he was a 20-year-old Army specialist and serving as a radio-telephone operator. He and 13 members of his team, along with a squad of Afghan soldiers, left an Afghan village after a meeting with elders. They made their way up an exposed ridge, single file, headed into an area known as “ambush alley.”
A single shot rang out. Then another. And then, Obama said, the entire canyon erupted, with bullets coming from all directions. White recalled that the whole valley “lit up.”
An explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade knocked White unconscious. He awoke with his face pressed against a rock. Enemy rounds hit just inches from his head, sending shrapnel and rock shards across his face.
As enemy fire ricocheted around him, White sprinted several times into a large open space to, bit by bit, pull a wounded Marine to cover. He fired his weapon to keep the enemy back and treated another soldier who had been badly shot in the arm.