“The valley erupted” is probably not the way you ever want to describe any particular geographic depression you happen to stroll through in Afghanistan. Seems unpleasant. Those are, unfortunately, the exact words Sgt. Kyle J. White, a Seattle native, used to describe what happened to his unit’s position near the village of Aranas on November 9, 2007. The sergeant’s daring and selfless actions for the next 16 hours after that eruption are what distinguished the then 20-year-old and soon-to-be Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
After Sgt. White’s unit met with village elders and other men in Aranas, the platoon’s interpreter said he began picking up radio transmissions in a language he did not understand. The lone Marine with the unit, an embedded training team member, advised the platoon’s commander that they should leave the area immediately. Soon after, all hell broke loose.
“There was one shot, you know, down into the valley, and then it was two shots, and then it was full-automatic fire and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) … it was coming from multiple directions,” White remembered. Carrying a fully-automatic M4A1, White emptied his 30-round magazine, then loaded another, but he didn’t get a chance to fire.
“An RPG hit right behind my head and knocked me unconscious … it was just lights out … when I woke up, I was face-down on a rock,” he said, recalling that as he was awakening, an enemy round fragmented near his head sending a shower of broken rock chips and debris into the side of his face. “I didn’t feel pain at all, [it was] just numb like when you go to the dentist.”
More shots, more booms, more chaos … then White realized 10 of the 14-man American element and the ANA soldiers were gone. With no cover, the remainder of the patrol had been forced to slide more than 150 feet down the side of a rocky cliff.
The only ones remaining up top were Spc. Kain Schilling, Ferrara, Bocks, the interpreter and White. Then White looked around and saw Schilling had been shot in the upper right arm and was dodging and weaving and running toward the cover of shrubs and the umbrella canopy of a single prickly tree. White made for the tree, which provided just enough shade to make the two Soldiers nearly invisible.
White checked his radio, but it was out of the fight. Then White saw Bocks, who was badly wounded, lying out in the open, about 30 feet from the shade of the tree. He began encouraging the Marine to use all the strength he could, but Bocks couldn’t make any progress.
“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, ‘well, shit, we’re not gonna make it through this one; it’s just a matter of time before I’m dead,'” White said. “I figured, if that’s going to happen, I might as well help someone while I can.”
White sprinted the 30 feet to Bocks as rounds skipped around his feet and snapped past his head, but he made it to Bocks unscathed, but remembered thinking, his wounds were severe. He looked over at Schilling and yelled at the interpreter to attend to the Soldier, but the interpreter was pinned down and couldn’t move.
“At that time, 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 with what I have.”
White grabbed the buddy carry handle on the back of Bocks’ vest and began pulling the 200-pound plus Marine toward cover. He realized that the enemy was now shooting directly at him and further endangering Bocks, so he ran back to cover, waited until fire died down, then ran out again repeating the process four times until Bocks was under cover.
White attended to Bocks the best he could, but unfortunately the Marine did not survive his wounds.
No sooner had White realized Bocks had passed away than he looked over to see Schilling get hit again by small-arms fire, this time in the left leg. White scrambled to Schilling. Out of tourniquets, White pulled his belt from his uniform and looped it around Schilling’s leg.
“Hey man, this is going to hurt,” White said to Schilling, who replied, “Just do it!”
“So, I put my foot on his leg and pulled the belt as hard as I could until the bleeding stopped,” White recalled.
White next looked around for the lieutenant and noticed his platoon leader, Ferrara, was lying still, face-down on the trail. Again, White exposed himself to fire, this time crawling to Ferrara’s position. The lieutenant was dead, so White moved back to Schilling where he began to use Schilling’s radio until an enemy round zipped right through the hand-mic blowing it out of his hand. Now both Soldiers’ radios had been destroyed.
The paratrooper moved to Bocks and found that his radio was still operational, so he established communication with friendly elements and rendered a situation report. He understood the situation well enough that he was able to bring in mortars, artillery, air strikes and helicopter gun runs to keep the enemy from massing on friendly positions.
“I heard a hiss, just a second of a hiss and then a big, big explosion and that one brought me to my knees,” he said. “It scrambled my brains a little bit.”
That was concussion No. 2 for the day, caused by a friendly 120-mm mortar round that fell a little short of its target.
As night fell, White relayed commands through the interpreter for Afghan National Army units to set up a security perimeter as they waited for MedEvac, which was still a few hours away. In the meantime, White focused on keeping Schilling, who had now been shot twice, awake and as alert as possible. White, who was twice concussed himself, also had to struggle to stay awake; otherwise, no one would have been able to call in the helicopters or fire support. Finally, when the time came, White marked a landing zone for the helicopters and loaded the wounded inside. Only after everyone else was secure did White finally evacuate himself. Five American soldiers and one U.S. Marine died in the fight. Many more soldiers, both American and Afghan, were injured as well.
Sgt. White tells the full story in the video below.
Sounds pretty open and shut to me. Thanks for being a badass.
And here is Sgt. White receiving his medal from President Obama.
[via Army News Service]