Washington (Army News Service) — The world should know about the service and sacrifice of the six service members who paid the ultimate price during the Battle of Aranas, nearly seven years ago, America's newest Medal of Honor recipient said.
Former Sgt. Kyle J. White was inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes yesterday morning, a day after receiving the Medal of Honor for his actions Nov. 9, 2007, outside the village of Aranas, Afghanistan.
"It was the worst day of my life," he said.
The battle claimed the lives of five Soldiers and a Marine.
The service members killed were Marine Corps Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, Capt. Matthew C. Ferrara, Spc. Joseph M. Lancour, Cpl. Sean K.A. Langevin, Sgt. Jeffery S. Mersman and Cpl. Lester G. Roque.
"They were warriors, they were the best of us," White told the Pentagon audience, which included his family and families of the fallen members, members who served with him, and leaders from the Army, Marine Corps and Department of Defense.
"These six men were 'Sky Soldiers' who gave their all to protect each other. They were a special few of America's young men who braved death and danger in search of something greater than themselves as part of the nation's military," White said.
The six were "just boys" when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, and were part of the 9/11 generation, he said.
"These boys, from places like Troy, Mich., and Walnut Creek, Calif., grew up quickly and volunteered to devote their lives to help prevent that nightmare from ever occurring on this soil again," he said.
They gave their lives for the nation on 9 November -- the ninth day of the 11th month -- a different 9/11, he said.
"In my eyes, those six men -- whose names I want everyone in the world to know -- they can never be any more perfect than they were that day on that goat trail on a mountainside in Afghanistan, fighting for their brothers," he said.
White, then a specialist, and other members of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, headquartered at Combat Outpost Bella, were in the village of Aranas for a shura meeting with village elders. They were ambushed as they exited the village.
"Sometimes I can be right back there, smelling the gun powder and burning hot metal of enemy grenades, tasting the air after my radio was hit," White said. "I can close my eyes and feel the whiz of the bullets as they pierce my uniform, missing my skin, but annoying the hell out me."
He said he tried to get Bocks out of danger, and "can still see the puff of air jostle (Spc.) Kain Schilling's uniform pant leg before the pool of blood began to soak through it from the enemy round."
He said he still has nightmares about that day, but "fewer and fewer" of them as time passes.
"That day, those smells, those sights, changed my life," he said. He received a gift that day -- "a gift that six of my brothers did not get," White said.
"I get to go on. I get to be better than I was at the age of 20, just a knuckle-headed boy from Seattle who wanted to jump out of airplanes," he said.
The six men gave their lives and sacrificed so much so others could live, White said. The nation owes them so much gratitude, he said, since they chose to leave their future to chance to seek a greater calling in serving the nation.
"I hope beyond hope that I can one day be worthy of their sacrifice. These are my brothers and they are more than Soldiers for life, they are 'Sky Soldiers' for life," he said.
"Let us not forget that these are six of 2,221 service members who have died serving as part of Operation Enduring Freedom," White said.
As the service members met with villagers, Bocks alerted leadership that his interpreter was hearing radio chatter in a language he didn't recognize. Bocks advised the platoon leader, Ferrara, it was best to leave immediately.
As they left, they were ambushed, coming under fire from a significant number of enemy positions, according to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.
"Sgt. White, along with his platoon, immediately returned fire, emptying their magazines in the direction of enemy targets," Odierno said.
White was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion when an enemy rocket-propelled grenade detonated near him, Odierno said. As he came to, a fragmented round sent shrapnel into his face.
"Even under such chaotic conditions, Sgt. White gathered himself and assessed the situation, noting that he, Spc. Schilling, Lt. Ferrara, Sgt. Bocks, and the interpreter were cut off from the rest of their patrol, whose members had been forced down a cliff," Odierno said.
He applied a tourniquet to Schilling, who had been shot in the arm, and found concealment for them underneath a lone tree, Odierno said.
"In the fury of the attack, Sgt. White took charge," he said.
"Under continuous fire, Sgt. White sprinted back and forth four times to the Marine, diverting fire from him while moving him to a more protected location. Sgt. White then applied a tourniquet to Sgt. Bocks' leg, but unfortunately he succumbed to his wounds."
He subjected himself to hostile fire to retrieve Bock's radio, in order to relay back key information that prevented the enemy from massing on friendly positions.
He suffered another concussion as a friendly mortar round landed near him, but "willed himself to stay awake, calling in a MedEvac to evacuate both Spc. Schilling and injured [Afghan National Army] soldiers," Odierno said.
White assisted the medic and refused to be evacuated until all of the wounded were out of the ambush site, he said.
SERVICE TO THE NATION
Because of White's decision to remain with the wounded, to never accept defeat, to never quit, and to never leave a fallen comrade, Schilling lives today, Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson said.
His fortitude under fire teaches the nation many things, things that speak directly to the Army's institutional values, Carson said.
"In his heroic example, he teaches us what Soldiers mean when they recite their creed," he said.
"For much of what Soldiers profess -- selfless service, honor, loyalty, duty -- Sgt. White made manifest during the battle of 9 November, enduring some of the most trying circumstances fate could see fit to contrive," Carson said.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work said White's story "represents the very, very best of the American fighting men and women, and preserves the memory" of the fallen members.
The purpose of the Medal of Honor is to "celebrate in both gratitude and remembrance," he said.
Work, who asked for a moment of silence for the six fallen members, also requested as part of an "unscripted" moment, that White, who was seated in the front row, stand and face the audience. Work asked audience members to stand as well, with those who have served in uniform to salute White.
Work said he hopes that all Americans come to know White's service, the exceptional courage he displayed, and the example he has set as one who has answered the call to service, completed the mission, and transitioned to civilian life with "grace, purpose and honor."
White, who enlisted in 2006, left the active Army in 2011. He currently resides in Charlotte, N.C., where he is an investment analyst with the Royal Bank of Canada.