WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the Medal of Honor to former Sgt. Kyle J. White, an Army radiotelephone operator who struggled for hours through persistent enemy fire in Afghanistan to try to save the lives of wounded soldiers during a surprise attack by Taliban fighters.
"Today, we pay tribute to a soldier who embodies the courage of his generation, a young man who was a freshman in high school when the Twin Towers fell," Mr. Obama said at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. "His journey from that day to this speaks to the story of his generation," the president added.
The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest military decoration.
Mr. White's team of 14 soldiers and a squad of Afghan soldiers were ambushed by heavily armed Taliban fighters after a tense meeting with elders in the village of Aranas, Afghanistan, in Nuristan province, on Nov. 9, 2007, according to the Army's account of the battle. "They had us outnumbered, that's for sure," Mr. White told Stars and Stripes.
As gunfire erupted from several directions, a rocket-propelled grenade landed near Mr. White, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke, he found himself among six team members who had been left in the open, after the others were forced to seek cover by sliding down a cliff.
Despite two blows to the head and a shrapnel wound on his face, Mr. White spent four hours rushing to the aid of three soldiers with life-threatening injuries, dragging them to cover and applying tourniquets.
Two radios were destroyed in the fighting before Mr. White recovered a working one and called in reinforcements by land and air, which pushed back the enemy. As the fighting subsided and night fell, Mr. White helped coordinate a rescue operation by radio, marking a landing zone and assisting medics in hoisting the wounded into a helicopter before being evacuated himself.
Two of the three Americans that Mr. White tried to save -- the platoon leader, 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, and Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks of the Marines -- were killed in the attack. Four others also died, and many more were wounded.
But former Spc. Kain Schilling survived after Mr. White dragged him from the open and applied tourniquets to his arm and leg. Mr. Schilling joined him at the White House ceremony Tuesday.
Mr. White, 27, is a native of Seattle. He retired from the Army in 2011 and is now an investment analyst at the Royal Bank of Canada in Charlotte, N.C.
Mr. White is the 14th recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in either Afghanistan or Iraq. By comparison, 464 Medals of Honor were awarded for service during World War II, 133 during the Korean War and 246 during the Vietnam War.
By 2007, Afghanistan was becoming the "forgotten war" as attention shifted to the increase in U.S. forces in Iraq. That year brought the greatest spike in insurgent violence in Afghanistan since the Taliban and al-Qaida had been routed six years earlier.