Medal of Honor recipient defied threat of death to help wounded comrades

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Politics Confidential

When former Army Sgt. Kyle White and his platoon came under surprise attack along a remote trail in Afghanistan in November 2007, he was resigned to dying.

“I pretty much realized there was no chance of survival after I took those fragments in my face after being knocked out,” said White, 27. “I had no hope for getting out of there, but it was kind of like, OK, but if that is going to happen, I'm going to do what I can to help my battle buddies until that does.”

But White didn’t die that day.

Despite being wounded himself, incurring two concussions, and running through direct enemy fire multiple times, White survived the four-hour battle while risking his own life to help wounded soldiers and, ultimately, saved the life of former Spc. Kain Schilling.

White was recognized by President Obama at the White House on Tuesday with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor.

“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, and who, just five years later, became an elite paratrooper with the legendary 173rd Airborne, the ‘Sky Soldiers,’" Obama said.

White, joined by Schilling, sat down with “Politics Confidential” to talk about the “bittersweet” award that has been earned though a battle that cost the lives of six of their friends.

“With it being over six years ago, the pain has subsided a little since then, but it's still always there, and, you know, there are a lot of memories coming back. It's … not my award. It’s just as much his as it is mine,” White said, turning to Schilling, “Not to mention everybody else that was there that day, especially those that gave their lives for the defense of this country.”

During the battle, White first noticed that Schilling had been wounded in the arm.

“All I remember is my arm went numb, and I initially thought an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] hit or something and it got taken off, so I realized the spot I was in was probably a bad spot,” Schilling recalled. “So I moved down the trail a little bit to somewhat of a tree or bush, and next thing I know, Kyle's coming towards me, and he's running through everything.”

The tree provided little protection from the incoming fire, and Schilling was wounded a second time.

“I get hit through my femur, and he takes his belt off or my belt and uses that as a tourniquet to stop that bleeding,” Schilling said, remembering White’s actions.

Said White: “When you're in that situation with that amount of fire and that much adrenaline going and you just fall back onto your training: one task at a time. I see Kain shot in the shoulder: tourniquet put it on. And then, OK, now, next thing: return fire … Keep moving on.”

White would go on to brave enemy fire several more times, running between Schilling and another wounded squadmate, Marine Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks, before the attack finally subsided at nightfall.

Despite White’s efforts at first aid on Bocks, he would succumb to his wounds and die that day. After he died, White used Bock’s still functional radio to make contact with backup forces.

“I picked up the little hand microphone that was on there, and as I was pulling it up, it gets ripped from my hand, and then, I remember thinking, ‘What was that?’ I reached down and grabbed it and it had a bullet hole clean through it. I remember that was really, that was ‘really, come on!’ That was the moment I was a little bit frustrated.”

Despite having the radio’s microphone shot from his hand, White was able to make contact with backup forces. Support came from the Afghan National Army came that night. But despite the reinforcements, White remembers that night as “the scariest time.”

“You realize, ‘I am the only able bodied American at my location,’” White said. “We had one set of night vision you know. I have to pull 360 security and you just realize how alone you are out there and it was not a good feeling.”

A medevac helicopter arrived later that night to evacuate White and Schilling, who was unconscious by the time they arrived.

“I made sure he went first,” White said of Schilling. “And then there was two ANA that were badly wounded … and we got them out and then we tried to get those that were killed in action out too, but the flight medic was like, ‘Hey we're low on fuel, we've got to go, like you're going right now,’ and she just hooked me up and took me out of there.”

During the White House ceremony on Tuesday, President Obama added a piece to White’s story.

“As the helicopter pulled away, Kyle looked out the window, watching the darkness as they pulled away from that single tree on the cliff,” Obama said. “'When you're deployed,' he later said, ‘Those people become your family. What you really care about is, I want to get this guy to the left and to the right home.’”

For more of the interview with White and Schilling, and to hear about the nightmares of that day that still haunt Schilling, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential.”

ABC News’ Betsy Klein, Tom Thornton, Melissa Young, and Nick Greiner contributed to this episode.