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Hudson Valley Press

July 11th, 2012

Purple Heart recipient making a full recovery

Army 1st Lt. David White, Jr. of Milton received the Purple Heart for his actions on March 2, 2012 when a suicide bomber attacked on his Calvary Regiment’s mission.
MILTON - David White, Jr. smiles as he raises his right arm to its limit, about a 135 degree angle.

About ten weeks ago that number registered 90 degrees. It’s just one statistic that reveals the marked strides the Army 1st Lt. and Purple Heart recipient has made since a day he will never forget: March 2, 2012.

Flashback to April 26, 2011, when White, a 2009 United States Military Academy graduate, was deployed to Kandahar, a province of Afghanistan. Here, just one week later, the Milton resident witnessed firsthand the profound effect of Osama bin Laden’s demise on the war front.

“It was a high point, a real, tangible gain that helped our soldiers,” reflected White. “They were truly energized by it.”

The 24-year-old White was soon routinely leading those soldiers, as a scout platoon leader of the 5th squadron, 1st Calvary Regiment. Using the classroom skills he garnered at West Point, he was applying that knowledge, finding common ground with leaders and helping to empower the region’s people. On March 2nd, his mission, along with that of 10 of his soldiers, a handful of Afghan police and a female engagement team, was aimed at teaching Afghan women about hygiene. However, an insurgent on a motorcycle had other designs. Setting off a bomb, the assailant injured three of White’s men, while taking his own life.

Meanwhile, shrapnel severed White’s right bicep. After instinctively guiding the female engagement team to a checkpoint 25 meter away and securing cover, his thoughts raced to one thing; his men.

“My first reaction was I was not prepared to speak at one of my soldier’s service memorials; I refused to believe I would have to go through that,” recalled White, who didn’t even realize he was hurt until a female medic grabbed him by the arm and pointed to the pool of blood surrounding him. In total, he was to lose close to a pint. That very night, after his first of three surgeries, White was awarded the Purple Heart.

“I realize there is a lot of history behind this medal; being a local guy, I knew it was founded right here in Newburgh,” said White. “It really makes you stop and think of all the people who received it before.”

White is planning to visit the Purple Heart birthplace just as soon as his hectic, but very happy life, settles down. Following surgeries aimed at fighting infection and inserting plates and screws into his right arm, White has been on the fast-track to receiving prompt, efficient medical care. Equipped with a medical triad: primary care physician, nurse case manager and military component to his rehabilitation, White could not be more grateful.

“The care has been great, the whole way, just very supportive and all positive; the army definitely takes care of its soldiers,” White continued. “I was just really lucky that was my only injury; we have come so far with helping our injured soldiers since Vietnam.”

Whites’ recovery has further been fueled by familial support from his mother, father, sister and brother Dan, who is set to graduate in August. Little brother, like his elder, was set back, but not defeated, by a physical injury when he tore his ACL last year.

David will have the opportunity to see plenty of his brother this summer. Accepting a position as Minority Admissions Outreach Counselor for the Northeast and Great Lakes Region at West Point, he began his duties in June. The admissions initiatives have always been close to his heart. So too has the Academy.

“It has really been a full circle experience, starting here at West Point, going for training to Oklahoma and Alaska, being deployed to Afghanistan, and then returning back here,” said White. “Our student enrollment really needs to reflect what our society looks like; we are doing well now, but can do much better.”

That mantra of perseverance and dedication to excellence holds true for White himself. Expected to recover completely from his arm injury some time in 2013, White will likely carry around other unforgettable reminders of the time he served in Afghanistan.

“I think it’s more important what is going to happen when we leave there (Afghanistan); it is important that we continue to help them help themselves,” said White as he looked at his right arm. “My experience over there taught me how fortunate and blessed we are to be Americans and to be in such a great country.”

Taking out the pocket-sized copy of the Constitution that he refers to as “a piece of America,” which never leaves him and is something he requires all his men to hold, White continued, “It also increased my empathy; even after going to Afghanistan, I realized we have more things in common than differences.”
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