Friday, August 1, 2014

Sgt. Kyle J. White -- Medal of Honor

--Congressional Medal of Honor

 Don't ever march home the same way.
Take a different route so you won't be ambushed 
--Roger's Standing Orders 

 Then I'm going to Hell,
and I'm taking the renaissance with me 
--Hit of the Search Party,
 Every Time I Die

Lies written in ink can never disguise
facts written in blood
--Lu Xun

Today, Ranger will discuss the 2007 action for which Sgt. Kyle J. White was recently presented the Medal of Honor (MOH) on 13 May 2014:

On 9 November 2007, an element of the United States Army descended into what was known as "Ambush Alley" outside of the Afghan village of Aranas, meeting their own ambush; five soldiers and a Marine were killed in their turn of the screw. What is truly tragic is that the unit traversed a known danger area without a proper support plan.

An old combat axiom warns against following roads or trails, or crossing danger areas without proper application of what should be unit standard operating procedure (SOP). The failure of Sgt. Kyle's unit originated in higher headquarters, far from that fated day in Ambush Alley. Battalion (Bn) level is where the Operations Orders originate for sqauds, platoons and companies of the Bn. (in this case, the 2/503rd/173rd Airborne.)

It would be instructive to see the Regimental Operation's Order, but of course these are classified for OPSEC purposes, never-minding that the OPSEC was seven years ago. So Ranger's analysis will be based upon the official record, and his experience as an Infantry small unit leader.

In danger areas (like Ambush Alley), several steps can be taken to minimize the risk of traversing the ground prior to engagement:

  • Traveling overwatch
  • Having friendly units covering the far ends of the danger area while bounding through the area
  • Having far and flank security (in this fight, flank security was not an option)
  • Having pre-planned artillery concentrations along the route of march ready to fire on-call. (Alternately, launch harassing and interdicting fire (H & I) along the route while the troops move through)
  • Use a nighttime movement through the danger area (an undesirable solution)
  • Have an alternate route
  • Have a helo lift to move the troops on the patrol. Gunships should be on-station

These are preplanning considerations that should have been considered before issuing an OPORD or patrol order for the action. According to the Army's website's History Channel-esque fabuloso transcript of Sgt. White's action, none of these precautions were employed. (Note: it does, however, appear that the enemy had an overwatch element.)

It is unrealistic to criticize anyone on the patrol for the oversights. The patrol leader was only a 1st Lieutenant, and they lack the knowledge to ask these questions or make these plans. That is the role of senior commanders and staff planners.

The official report online indicates only some overwatch elements, but this was clearly ineffective. An old Army adage says, "You must give medals or Courts Martial for dereliction of duty"; medals are preferred as the most expedient course of action.

Clearly, it is not Sgt. White who was derelict. As mentioned previously, the fault lies in higher HQ. Sgt. White's actions were reactive rather than proactive, and therein lies his valor. The enemy held the initiative, to include when to break contact. The enemy's planning and execution trumped ours.

Because Sgt. White's leaders failed to provide proper preplanning and support, Sgt. White's element was out-soldiered on that day. He lacked the tools that are in the inventory, and should have been immediately on-call.

Where was the Regiment or Bn. intelligence officer in this fight? Was the patrol provided fresh satellite photos of the battle space? Did agents indicate any hostiles in the area of operation (AO)? Were drones available to cover the unit's movement? 

The breakdown at Ambush Alley was at the Bn level command and staff functions. Sgt. White's MOH citation states that he "provided information and updates to friendly forces, allowing precision airstrikes to stifle the enemy's attack ..." At this point there were five U.S. KIA on the field and it is doubtful that the enemy would wait for supporting fires of any sort to arrive before the ambush element had left the kill zone. Enemy units know the sweet spot in which they can operate before being subjected to U.S. firepower.

The men who fought and died that day are very special soldiers and men. Sgt. White was honorable and valorous, and deserved his MOH. But our soldiers are not sacrificial lambs. They deserved better leadership than they received.

Further thoughts: why did it take almost seven years for Sergeant White to receive his award? In addition, why are there only nine living recipients of the MOH from the wars formerly known as the War on Terror? Why is there a cluster of MOH's coming out of the 503rd Infantry-- do they have a corner on the MOH market?

There is nothing to celebrate from the actions on 9 November 2007 in Nuristan Province.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar.]


  1. 1] "The patrol leader was only a 1st Lieutenant, and they lack the knowledge to ask these questions or make these plans."
    Strongly disagree! ONLY a 1st Lieutenant??? Even lowly 2nd Lieutenants and mid level NCOs have been doing their own patrol plans for hundreds of years. Some badly maybe, but some magnificently.

    2] The terrain in Aranas was a major factor. It is all cliffs.

    3] Satellite imagery is vastly overrated especially against irregulars and it is much too time sensitive. It is also extremely hard to read in the steep, and in some places near-vertical terrain of Aranas.

    4] Seven years is way too long. How many in-boxes did that recommendation have to sit in while some action officers were busy polishing their own resume?

  2. Mike ,
    In the 1st fight at Dak To in Nov 67 it took 2 years to process and award the 3 MOH's. That seems a normal timeline. All were KIA's.
    Ok, i roger your points and the validity there of. So tell me why 5 Amies died in this scenario!.WE don't know the actions of the PL or the chain of command because all we get are sterile documents blowing smoke.
    In my research and background to include Army Times apr 14 there is a lack of info on times etc.. and reaction times.
    I want to know why they didn't just jump over ambush alley-isn't that why we have helos?
    Why would a 1LT be the senior man at a meeting with locals? Why was the patrol so weak?
    Did the team abandon the folks in the KZ?
    The PL cannot make a patrol order that is more complex or detailed than the Bn OPORD.
    Why was there no covering force to provide security on the return , or even infil phase?
    There is no such thing as a routine patrol. The planning here was weak .

  3. Mike,
    I have another concern with the 3 -2/506/173rd MOH's for the period of oct/07/nov07/jul08.
    Of all the units in the pwot why are 3 clustered in 1 bn? This just seems strange to me.
    I can't shake this off.

  4. RAW's list is for a deliberate movement. An army may be able to make only such deliberate movements in a conflict, but it defeats itself by doing so.

    There are other ways, but I assume the U.S.Army was isntitutionally unable to adapt them thoroughly because the pressure wasn't high enough.

  5. Jim: I cannot answer your questions with any reliability as I was not there and have no insight into after action reports. I can only speculate.

    MOH cluster in one unit? Possibly several reasons: 1] Unit elan and boldness, or 2] a zealous awards recommendation policy in that particular chain of command, or 3] over-aggressiveness in combat ops by the US commander, or 4] just plain old bad luck that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or 5] a cover-up?? But the last one is BS I think, too many people would have to be in on it and it would have come out like with Pat Tillman. I believe the reason to be the first one I listed

    ”So tell me why 5 Amies died in this scenario!” I thought it was six, or are you not counting the Marine that died with them? In any case I do not have any answer. 360+ died in the Battle of Dak To that you mentioned including the younger brother of a girl that I went to high school with. Why did those 360 die? In the lead up to the battle when Alpha Company of the 173rd had over 70% casualties including 76 KIA, a recommendation was made to relieve BG John Deane from command of the 173rd for over aggressiveness. But he skated and instead a few junior officers were transferred out. Deane made four stars later in his career.

    ”I want to know why they didn't just jump over ambush alley-isn't that why we have helos?” 1] resources maybe? 2] Perhaps air tasking orders were only approved at the highest levels of ISAF? 3] I understand Aranas was above 3000 meters elevation, or maybe not, I see conflicting info on the internet ranging anywhere from 1800 meters to 3500. Aranas is in the Hindu Kush Mountains which are an offshoot of the Himalayas. High elevations are tough on helo flight envelopes and reduce their carrying capacity. Certainly Chinooks could have done it. Hueys and Blackhawks have a ceiling of over 5000 meters but how many troops could they have carried at those altitudes? Maybe I am full of bunk as I have never been a rotorhead. Al would know the answer. All are wild a$$ guesses, so consider them strawmen to be rebutted.

    ”Why would a 1LT be the senior man at a meeting with locals?” Why not? Aranas is a small mountainside village in the remotest province in Afghanistan. I have not found a population figure but the entire province has only about 100,000. Does it rate a field grade officer every time a Shura meeting is held with the local elders? Whatever happened to the concept of strategic corporals?

    ”Did the team abandon the folks in the KZ?” No! There were only 14 Americans I understand, and six died or were fatally wounded early. That left seven not counting White and some of those were wounded. When the firing started most sought cover as I would have (and have before back 45 years ago). Some fell or rolled down cliffs but still took casualties from enemy fire so were not completely out of the kill zone. For sure Kyle White did not, and God bless him. I understand he is now an investment analyst with RBC. Maybe we should all seek him out for investment advice and let him earn $$$ commissions instead of the sweat and blood he got in Aranas.

    ” Why was the patrol so weak? Why was there no covering force to provide security on the return , or even infil phase?” Good questions that I cannot answer. How big was the American presence at Bella where they were returning to? Was it a platoon level outpost or a company (minus), or was it a Battalion level post that could spare troops for a covering force? I have no clue. S.O.'s answer is a good one.

  6. Mike, RaW;
    inadequacies, shortages, scarcity, haste, mistakes, sloppiness, incompetence, bad luck

    All this is utterly normal in warfare. Clausewitz is a rich quote pool on this.
    It's descriptive of the situation the U.S. forces live in that such normal things - though rarely visible - are considered appalling.
    Officers from some other armies wrote in their memoirs how gifted men made do with what little they had, even amidst disaster. I have yet to see a single appalled non-US/UK/Australian/Canadian writing about micro-level engagements gone wrong.

    I sense especially with RaW the very same 'spirit' as with the late Col. Hackworth and his fury about the hard body armour shortage in Iraq in about 2004. This idea that it's somehow possible to eliminate "shit happens" in warfare, and failure to do so is a failure.
    It's probably a micro-level equivalent to the belief that "war works".
    Or it's simply the product of an overdose of "can do mentality" indoctrination.

  7. S O -

    You put RAW in good company. I am sure he had the same opinion of Rumsfeld that Hackworth did. I don't think RAW sanctioned a brothel at any base under his command, but who knows......?

  8. Mike/SO,
    as we all say -we don't have the data.
    I'm just asking questions as a former soldier should. I'm extremely skeptical of all that comes out of the pwot.
    In the White scenario the wording starts out calling the opposition forces as -enemy , and then shifts to Taliban.What were they?I don't know ,but i argue that we should be told who our troops are killing. I don't ascribe to the comic book deaths head that the 2/503 uses as a symbol, so i think we should only kill people hostile to the US.
    In the Romesha MOH we didn't know who we fought until after the fight, and this was reported in several sources. In the Murphy MOH the figures don't add up, and it can be argued that the hostiles were not Talibs. Inn Romesha/Murphy they were described in some sources as Bandits,smugglers, etc..In Murphy there was one self interested and self promoter as the only witness. In SSG Miller there were no actual eye witnesses to the actual fight ,as they couldn't see the fight. In both cases we have conjecture.
    In all the cases the enemy held the high ground and possessed the initiative.
    Now to White. There was only 1 seriously wounded soldier in the kill zone with him as all else were dead.
    In Myers MOH the time line and events are questioned. Again we're back to witnesses versus conjecture.
    Now back to Dak To-there were a plethora of live witnesses to Barnes/Lozada/Watters.
    Yes i doubt unless verified ,as taught to me by R. Reagan.
    I don't doubt the courage or the soldiers/Marines, but i do doubt the process. All the fights seem so flimsy and ill planned,and sacrificial. Maybe that's war, but i don't buy that theory.
    Now to SO.
    This was a pre-planned mission and as such the assets should have been available, and if they weren't then scrub the mission as this is serious business, either killing or being killed.

  9. Mike,
    I know that the fight killed US types and that can be seen as hostile to the US, but we are there supporting a corrupt government and calling it democracy.
    I say again that the US Army can't defeat insurgents in Afgh because they aren't insurging against us.
    They are insurging against - you can fill in the blanks.
    We have been fighting a supposed war on the flimsiest of rationale.

  10. mike, OT, but in response to your comment about brothels- - - Following Tet, 1968, access to the village (and its brothels) outside our base camp was closed. VD rate went down, but detected drug usage went up. At a Group staff meeting, our flight surgeon said it was due to the "need to get away syndrome", saying that if the troops can't get away from it all in the village, they would do so chemically. He then suggested that we might very well see a drop in drug usage if access to the village was restored. Someone at the meeting looked at the chaplain and said, "I'm sure Fr XXXX wouldn't be supportive of such a notion." The Padre smiled and said, "Interesting notion, Doc. I think one has a better chance of repenting for fornication and having VD cured than recovering from a drug addiction." The immediate outburst of laughter was followed by a round of applause.

    While this in no way was "sponsoring", it did reflect a feeling that those brothels did serve some sort of purpose.

  11. I've been reading a book called "Lost Battalions", jim, about two U.S. units in WW1, the 308th and 369th Infantry (the latter was the all-black outfit that ended up with the French because no U.S. infantry division would take them.

    What jumps out at me is how that - even with their Allies' three years of experience to guide them - the U.S. junior officers and battalion field-grade officers didn't have "good" solutions to many of the tactical problems they had to solve. That, and as the old saying goes "No plan survives contact with the enemy - that's why they're CALLED "the enemy".

    I don't honestly know whether this particular patrol could have been planned better - or avoided altogether. But one thing to consider is that there were probably, what, four dozen other patrols out in that AO the same day, and this one went badly. The others didn't, and that's why we know nothing about them. 1-for-48? 1-for-30? That's not a real good average for the G's.

    Now...whether or not the whole IDEA of running around the Hindu Kush trying to suppress a local rebellion that the local government is too corrupt and incompetent to suppress? I think that's entirely another matter.

    So I guess the short form of this comment is:

    1. This patrol may have been the result of fucked-up planning. OR it may have been the result of bad luck and a competent enemy. Without access to the OPORDs as well as all the intel extant at the time it's hard to say for sure.

    2. Regardless of what happened that day the geopolitical situation doesn't always connect directly to success or failure in individual small-unit engagements. Allied units were getting ambushed and cut off by German troops in November 1917 - it didn't make the eventual collapse of Germany any more or less likely or say anything about the larger geopolitics of WW1. We're free to opine on the value of the Umpteenth Afghan War all we want, but I'm not sure that the success or failure of this particular patrol - or any other - says anything larger about that.

  12. Al - It seems that your flight surgeon and Father XXXX felt the same way as Colonel Hackworth. More like sanctioning, not sponsoring.

    I am against both, now anyway at 71. As a young man my experience in I Corps (without any admissions of guilt) was that most brothels or massage parlors (aka 'steam-and-creams') on or near major bases were owned outright or sponsored by high level ARVN or RVNAF officers, staffed by montanyard girls or other minorities who were pimped out by Vietnamese NCOs. It was as bad as the opium trade corruption of the Afghan National Army today. Or as bad as the kickback scheme by Iraqi Army officers where they let most of their troops stay home and draw half pay while they took the other half. How can you depend on allies so corrupt? I have to ask if the ANA squad that was attached to Kyle White's platoon were paid to look the other way in the local smuggling trade, which may have eventually led to Ambush Alley????

    So maybe not so off topic after all.

  13. Chief,
    The problem, as i see it is truthfulness.
    Tell us the truth.Simple as that.
    If there were contiguous patrols why did it take 20 hours to evac the casualties?
    My head count on the KIA's was off as you noted. No , i would never discount any deaths(USMC) to include hostiles. This leads me to ask- what were en casualties?
    Now to get out of the whore house thing.
    In RVN the whores paid taxes (vc) and provided order of battle on US forces. Now maybe i can finesse this to the topic intended.
    There are no whores in AFGH that i'm aware of , unless dough nut dollies are renting it out. The locals provide this function. Also drug dealers are intel sources for the opposition forces.
    Why were there no ANA, KIA's?
    So the point is-how do u want to get screwed.?!

  14. Mike and All,
    I see this fight as a continuation of Dak To 1@2, and the entire VN war.
    The NVA especially , and the VC to a lesser extent always picked off isolated units and infil'd unit boundaries to defeat in detail isolated units.
    Isn't this exactly what we've seen in every MOH scenario coming out of AFGH? These awards are sorrowful affairs indicating US failures, which doesn't add up to success.
    Reading the citations is self abuse imo. In all instances it was isolated units with out proper support etc...yadi,yadi.
    We are chumps, and that isn't to be confused with leadership.
    A shiny medal is a bandage on a sucking chest wound.

  15. RaW, you don't see the greater picture.

    The Taleban have been overpowered so very much, they've been reduced in their repertoire to almost nothing. Route mining and inaccurate harrassign fires are most of what's left to them.
    You may seek for perfection, for security - but if one took even these few capabilities away - what would they have done?
    They would have turned even mroe on the ANA, ANP and civilians and would haveoffered even fewer opportunities to engage them directly.
    That wasn't what the mission was about, it woudl have been counterproductive on the operational and strategic level.

    The Americans need to understand that even if they achieved perfection in every fight, the might still lose. Meanwhile, others who accept more casualties might succeed in the same mission. The American way of warfare is a dead end such many scenarios.

  16. jim- Valor awards are based upon an individual's valor, not the merits of the action in which it is awarded. Things go to shit and on occasion, some troopie is moved to exhibit behavior that is considered above and beyond, and it is noticed. The award of a medal for valor is separate and distinct from any and all errors that others may have committed. The A&D reg does not have any verbiage that I am aware of that precludes an award when the soldier is involved in action resulting from someone else's screw up.

    Critique the actions of the leaders up the chain, if you will. That does not diminish what the troopie being cited in any regard.

    I would also suggest that awards above the Silver Star are approved at echelons way above the dick heads in theater. While a local senior commander can award an SS (as in the case of Tillman) with a minimum of verification of what really happened, the two higher awards require significant documentation, particularly the MOH.

    Time can drag while sufficient supporting material is gathered to either support or decline such recommendations for awards. Take the case of LTC Charles C Rogers. I knew the man fairly well, having supported his Bn regularly and flew emergency resupply to the fire base during the action for which he was cited. The MOH was awarded some 18 months after the action, but there were a couple of hundred witnesses to his amazing valor, and I heard the story from many of them, and there wasn't an iota of variance in what they described. The supporting material was overwhelming, and the award was approved in a timely fashion. Made John Wayne look like a coward. Yet, since he was the highest ranking black to receive the award at the time, people who had no first hand knowledge of what really happened raised questions about the legitimacy based on that.

  17. So,
    I'm the guy that always writes that if we kill every gun toter in AFGH we're still gonna lose.
    I am not subverting the valor or the soldiers involved. Valor is not a strategy.

  18. RAW: "I'm the guy that always writes that if we kill every gun toter in AFGH we're still gonna lose"

    Unfortunately, far too many policy makers and far too many in the general population can't figure that out.

  19. Al,
    I get every thing you said, and feel I need to say a few more things.
    AR's are like the bible in that they are open to interpretation.
    For example-what is conspicuous gallantry.? I don't even know what gallantry looks like , much less conspicuous.Is this like porno in that you know it when you see it?
    Pls read my essay of Dec. 20, 2010 titled -Relative Worth, if you would.
    Now to all soldiers. If we are ambushed we are required by all the nifty codes/creeds to fight our way out, return fire, pull out/in the wounded, assault the enemy or pull back with our wounded. Most soldiers in this scenario would leave the dead, as would i. So where is the gallantry?
    I'd say that leaving the kz and then returning for kia's/wia's is a good yardstick, but we don't see that here. So where did the line to MOH standards get crossed?
    The other yardstick is at a certain level of exposure usually equated with sure death. If 1 is in a close ambush KZ then this is a deceptive concept since 1 does not have an option. You are there and all you can do is to soldier.
    Now i'd suggest that the command element didn't slide down the hill like the rest only because they were unable to do so, not that they would not have done so. This is my conjecture. In all my time i never heard of sliding down a hill, splitting an element, as counter ambush technique. Also i don't understand why those that slid out are not considered to have left their Team leader and HQ element in the lurch.
    Is this a reasonable statement? I think so.
    White did every thing a soldier should do , but that doesn't meet the measure imo. But my opinion means squat and we all salute and feel proud for our country.
    But all of this is meaningless, and my point is lost in rhetoric. All the afgh MOH's point to poor tactics and foolhardy staff planning and execution. , and we're all ok with that. Somebody should be relieved for it taking 20 hours to get the folks out of the AO.
    Well i'm not ok with any of this, but so what!`` .
    With due respect to the soldiers, and to all milpub denizens.

  20. jim- The only MOH situation I feel comfortable discussing is the one I mentioned above, and the citation barely scratches the surface of what colleagues described of LTC Roger's actions. Read between the lines - an Arty Bn commander "lead the counter attack", "reestablished and reinforced the defensive positions", etc. Where was the infantry commander? Well, he was hunkered down. Rogers was spending the night with one of his batteries and ended up not only leading the defense of the fire base (an Inf Bn, Cav platoon and Arty Bty), but did a "Machine-gun Kelley", engaged in hand to hand with Charlie, to include wielding a 2 x 4 at one point and the like. Yet the bulk of the actual events are not in the citation, just a summary. After all is said and done, the citation generally has to fit in about 3/4s of a letter size page. Trying to make any judgement of what the person really did, or the details of an operation from a synopsis ain't going to happen.

    The reg does not clearly define what qualifies as the appropriate level of valor, as that would be impossible. Those recommending awards, as well as those in the chain up to the approving level have to exercise a modicum of judgment. Been there, done that. DSC and MOH usually require some hefty documentation and multiple eye witness support, and any conflicts have to be resolved. Lastly, in my experience, award recommendations are routinely downgraded, but rarely upgraded. Often by commanders (or "Awards Boards") who don't want to forward it up to the next echelon for approval, but rather downgrade to a level they can approve.

  21. jim -

    Good analogy on the bible.

    But not being there at Aranas, I have no right to interpret or judge and no right to say that part of the team "slid out", especially to say it like a curse and make it sound as if they skated out on their teammates. And with all due respect neither do you.

    We do not know the facts, we do not know the terrain except in poor 2-dimensional photos, we do not know who was returning fire, and we do not know which team elements were in defilade. Any attempt on our part to judge what happened based on a few pieces of paper are illusions.

    If you want to judge them then convene all the participants and re-enact it at the scene of the ambush or on a sandtable or a scale model. A map exercise is not gonna do it not even the new virtual ones.

  22. Mike,
    That's my point.
    Since Myers was such a controversy, why not issue a complete packet that details the action?
    I'm up for that.
    Odierno is on record as saying that they jumped off a cliff to get away. This is a symbolic Daniel Boone thing, as he did something similar. Bur he wasn't part of a patrol.
    I'm just asking questions that are reasonable from a soldiers perspective.
    Franklin Miller was upgraded to the MOH from DSC. It was submitted , and 5th Group upgraded.If my memory serves.
    Did any of you read my essay-Relative Worth?
    IMO the MOH has become a propaganda tool. This has been a contention since Donlon was awarded the Medal. The charge was not that he wasn't brave, but that the administration needed a live hero.
    The words are all stirring , but what do they add up to?

  23. To All,
    Nobody has the right to question a soldiers action, but we do have a right to question the rhetoric coming out of that action.
    I find it strange that we have radio silence from the survivors.

  24. jim" Since Myers was such a controversy, why not issue a complete packet that details the action?

    I think you have lost sight of the awards process. It is the approving authority, and only the approving authority that is required to be convinced of the merits of the recommendation. The citation is simply a synopsis of the action for which the award is granted, and the only publicly published account. Some are well written, others are not so well written. That's how the awards system works. It doesn't not require "selling" the validity of the award to an external audience, and I would rue the day it ever might. To be frank, the only real abuses I ever saw were below the DSC and MOH level, where local commanders' bias could easily be exercised. A DSC or MOH recommendation needs serious merit to ever exit the theater of operations, no less be taken seriously upon arrival in D.C.

    I'm sure there has been "radio silence" from survivors of a lot of award producing actions. Are you suggesting they owe us verification?

  25. Al,
    I am not an external audience.
    I am a tax paying citizen and this is my tax dollars at work.
    I have every right to know the details.