In comments liberally sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and sage advice to student veterans and administrators at the University of Akron in Ohio last week, Medal of Honor recipient Kyle White talked about the challenges he faced when he left the military and went to college, and about the enduring friendship between himself and Master Sgt. David Dzwik, who now serves as Senior Military Science Instructor for the Akron ROTC program.
The event was held Feb. 19 in the Student Union Theater and hosted by American Legion University of Akron Post 808, who honored White with a Paid Up For Life membership. Nearly 200 people attended the hour-long address and question and answer period.
The relationship between White and Dzwik started when White was an “out of the box private” and Dzwik was his squad leader. “Our first encounter was (White) doing push-ups for something that he said that didn’t make me happy,” noted Dzwik to chuckles from the audience. Close friends for the past 10 years, White spoke at the invitation of Dzwik to talk about the three things he is focused on as a Medal of Honor recipient.
“When I go speak, it has to do with one of three things: veteran education, employment or destigmatizing PTSD and TBI," White said. "I think those are the three issues which are facing the veteran population now, and what I concern myself with.”
White spoke at length about transitioning from the military to college.
“People often talk about the difficulties in making the transition from being in the military and then going to school, and how it is difficult," he said. "For me, it comes down to the structure. In the military you know what your two months, six months and probably the next year is going to look like as far as training, deployment and so forth. And you take that structure and go into school where that is gone. You know when your exams are, but what you do to get there is completely up to you. Your success or failure is not on a non-commissioned officer above you; it’s on yourself.”
White advised the student veterans to treat college like their next mission, and noted that while finding his first job he did the same thing. White believes part of the problem with veterans employment is that everything in the military is focused on being humble and being a team player. But when you try to get a job, White said, “you need to dial that humility back just a little bit and sell yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell what you learned as a platoon leader, or whatever capacity you served in, and how that is going to directly reflect itself in your job performance.”
One humorous story White relayed was about his first firefight in Afghanistan when things were going poorly. His unit was in an outpost located in Kunar Province, which later became known as the “Ranch House.” White and Dzwik were in the tactical operation center, which was surrounded by the enemy when White turned to Dzwik and told him he was out of grenades.
“He’ll say it was a bad catch, I’ll say it was a bad throw,” White said. The grenade went out the door and into the open. “It was probably because this was my first firefight and I was a dumb private, but I was like ‘Oh, I’ll go get it.’” Rounds started kicking up all around White so he hurried back into the building to see Dzwik shaking his head in incomprehension at what he’d just witnessed.
White would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on Nov. 9, 2007, when his unit was ambushed after returning from a meeting with village elders. Briefly knocked unconscious by rocket-propelled grenade, White would regain consciousness and expose himself to intense enemy fire in order to reach a wounded soldier and provide medical aid. After providing other aid to a wounded Marine and another soldier, White would expose himself to fire again to retrieve the radio of a deceased comrade. He then directed airstrikes to relieve the beleaguered unit, ultimately permitting medical evacuation aircraft to rescue him, his fellow soldiers, Marines and Afghan army soldiers.
White resides in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife and works in the financial and banking sector.