Army Ranger Awarded Medal of Honor for Hostage Rescue
U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony Friday for helping liberate over 70 hostages from an ISIS prison compound in Iraq five years ago.
President Donald Trump draped the nation’s highest military award around Payne’s neck during a ceremony on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a day that compelled Payne to enlist.
“The Medal of Honor represents everything great about our country, and for me I don’t consider myself a recipient of this medal, I consider myself a guardian of this medal. What’s important for me is that my teammates’ legacies will live on with this Medal of Honor,” said Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne.
According to media reports, Payne was assigned to the Army’s elite and secretive Delta Force unit during the daring mission. The Army doesn’t publicly disclose the members of the unit, formally known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD‑D).
If this is the case, Payne is the first living soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for actions carried out while as a member of Delta Force. Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. First Class Randy Shughart received the award posthumously for their actions during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, popularly known as the “Black Hawk Down” incident.
This is also the first Medal of Honor being awarded for actions undertaken in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Hostage rescue mission:
Sgt. Maj. Payne was part of a joint task force that assisted Iraqi security forces Oct. 22, 2015, in raiding an ISIS prison near Hawija in northern Iraq after a request by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Soldiers had to quickly rescue the hostages amid heavy enemy gunfire and suicide-vest detonations during the contested nighttime operation. After being infilled by CH-47 Chinook helicopters, Payne and members of the task force climbed over a wall into the prison compound. Payne, an assistant team leader at the time, helped lead his team as it cleared one of the two buildings known to house hostages, many of whom were captured Iraqi security forces personnel.
Once inside the building after light resistance from the enemy, Payne’s team used bolt cutters to pierce through the locks of a prison door, freeing nearly 40 hostages. Payne and others then heard an urgent call for help over the radio from other task force members engaged in an intense firefight at the second building.
Payne and his team maneuvered about 30 yards to the heavily-fortified building, which was partially on fire. Once there, he and others scaled a ladder onto the roof of the one-story building as a sustained rate of enemy machine-gun fire shot out from below. From a vantage point on the roof, they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire.
At that point, enemy fighters began to detonate their suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. Payne and others then moved off the roof to an initial breach point on the ground level.
With barricaded enemies firing rounds toward him, Payne entered the structure to open another fortified door. After he managed to cut the first lock, he had to run out due to the heavy smoke and handed off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi partner. After the partner came out for fresh air, Payne took the tool again to sheer off the last lock and kicked open the door.
Still being engaged by the enemy, Payne and others escorted about 30 more hostages out of the burning building. With disregard for his own safety, Payne then reentered the building two more times to ensure every hostage was out. One of those times he had to forcibly remove one of the hostages who had been too frightened to move during the chaotic scene.
Payne and his teammates liberated 70 hostages in the daring mission. The mission left one U.S. Soldier, Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler, and at least 20 insurgents dead.
For his actions that day, Payne was initially awarded the Army’s second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
In addition to the ceremony at the White House, DOD and Army senior leaders will recognize Payne during a Hall of Heroes induction ceremony, at the Pentagon which will be announced at a later date.
About Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne:
Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, now an instructor assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), grew up in Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, South Carolina, and graduated from high school in 2002. Part of the 9⁄11 generation, Payne felt a strong sense of duty to serve his country. After high school, he enlisted in the Army as an Infantryman 11B and completed the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2002 and the Ranger Indoctrination Program (now known as the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program) in early 2003.
He was then assigned as a rifleman to A Co., 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, where he also served as a sniper and sniper team leader until November 2007, the year he was selected for assignment to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Since then, he has served within USASOC as a special operations team member, assistant team sergeant, team sergeant and instructor.
In 2012, Payne and his teammate won the Best Ranger Competition – a grueling contest that places extreme demands on buddy teams’ physical, mental, technical and tactical skills as Rangers – at Fort Benning.
Throughout his career, Payne deployed 17 times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Inherent Resolve, and to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.
Payne is a graduate of numerous military schools and courses, including Basic Airborne Course; Ranger Indoctrination Program; Ranger School; Sniper Course; Basic Leader Course; Basic Demolition Course; Advanced Demolition Course; Advanced Land Navigation; Survive, Evasion, Resistance and Escape; Free Fall Parachutist; Advanced Leader Course; Jumpmaster Course; Free Fall Jumpmaster Course; Joint Military Tandem Master Course; Senior Leader Course; Defense Language Institute (French); Special Forces Sniper Course; and Joint Special Operations Senior Enlisted Academy.
Payne’s awards and decorations include the Medal of Honor; Bronze Star Medal with Bronze “V” device and three Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters; the Purple Heart; Defense Meritorious Service Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters; Meritorious Service Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster; Joint Service Commendation Medal with Bronze “V” device; Army Commendation Medal with Bronze “V” device and one Silver Oak Leaf Cluster; Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation; Joint Meritorious Unit Award; Valorous Unit Award; Meritorious Unit Commendation; Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and five Loops; National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars; Iraq Campaign Medal with five Bronze Stars; Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral “3”; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; NATO Medal; Ranger Tab; Combat Infantryman Badge; Expert Infantryman Badge; Military Free Fall Jumpmaster Badge and Parachutist Badge.
Payne graduated from Norwich University in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science degree in strategic studies and defense analysis. He is stationed at Fort Bragg, where he lives with his wife and three children.