CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — For U.S. Army Sergeant Kyle White, the firefight began without warning.
White’s platoon left a meeting with village elders in Afghanistan after an interpreter heard suspicious chatter on an Army radio.
On the way back to their outpost, White’s platoon was ambushed. Over the next few hours, White put his own life at risk to save fellow service members during the Nov. 8, 2007 attack.
“I remember thinking multiple times that day I wasn’t going to make it,” said White, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor next month by President Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, the 27-year-old White, who now lives in Charlotte, was honored by the North Carolina military community. Gov. Pat McCrory, who was at the gathering, called White a “true American hero.”
In his first public discussion of the attack, White made a brief statement and then answered questions about the firefight that killed five members of his platoon and a Marine embedded with his unit.
He also discussed his life since leaving the Army in May, 2011. The Seattle native graduated from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte with a finance degree, and he now works as an investment analyst at a bank in North Carolina’s largest city.
White said that after the ambush, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He urged veterans suffering from the illness to get help.
“The first thing that they need to do is reach out and get the help that they need. I know there’s a stigma around it. But these service members need to realize that they went to war and they made it back and that they might have some scars remaining,” White said.
“There’s no shame in going and seeking help. Reach out to your chain of command and they will help you,” he said.
And while the attack was 6 ½ years ago, the images are still fresh.
“Certain things you think about less and less. But at any given moment I can close my eyes and be there ... I can hear the sounds, smell the gunpowder in the air,” he said.
White and his team of 14 U.S. soldiers, along with Afghan National Army soldiers, were ambushed after meeting with village elders in Aranas, Afghanistan, according to an Army account of the attack.
The Army said the U.S. soldiers had been wary of heading to the village because local residents were suspected of collusion that resulted in a major attack on an American outpost months earlier.
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.
As White and his fellow soldiers were leaving, they were attacked by gunfire from multiple directions. White was knocked unconscious and when he came to, he realized that most of his American soldiers and all of the Afghans traveling with them had taken cover 150 feet down a rocky cliff.
According to the Army account, 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 the condition of his fellow soldiers, running and crawling through gunfire as he made his way toward them.
Ferrara was already dead and Bocks was badly wounded. White repeatedly exposed himself to gunfire as he made attempts to pull Bocks into a covered area. Though he tried to stop Bocks’ bleeding, the Marine later died.
Suffering from concussions himself, White also treated Schilling’s injuries, even tying his own belt around his fellow soldier’s leg when he ran out of tourniquets.
Of the unit’s radios, only Bocks’ was still working after the attack. White used it to call for help, which didn’t arrive until after nightfall.
When a helicopter did arrive, White only allowed himself to be evacuated after the wounded were assisted.
Schilling survived the attack and told the Army that he plans to attend White’s Medal of Honor ceremony next month.
White said he is humbled by the award and that he would use it to tell the stories of the men who died that day.
“I will forever be a voice for them. I will tell their stories and preserve their memories. I say this because although they are gone, they will not be forgotten,” he said.