History Mighty Heroes

MoH Monday: Sgt Maj Thomas Patrick Payne

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thomas patrick payne medal of honor
DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II.

Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne is a member of the U. S. Army Delta Force and a recipient of the Medal of Honor. Payne earned his award in 2015 for his action in Iraq. He is the only U.S. service member to earn the Medal of Honor for service during Operation Inherent Resolve.

Background on Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne

Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne hails from Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, where he spent most of his childhood. He comes from a family of civil servicemen. His father is a police officer and two of his brothers serve in the military. After completing high school in 2002, Payne joined the U.S. Army and underwent One Station Unit Training and completed the Basic Airborne Course. Later, he joined Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Ranger Regiment, and became a 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta member.

Payne has deployed several times throughout his career, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. During a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, Payne sustained a severe injury from a grenade blast. Despite the odds, he made a remarkable recovery and returned to active duty. In 2015, he played a crucial role in a rescue mission, where he displayed exceptional bravery and selflessness. His actions during the mission earned him the prestigious Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor Action

The mission to rescue hostages in Hawija, Kirkuk Province, Iraq was one of the most dangerous operations the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve had ever undertaken. On October 22, 2015, the Task Force received a terrifying notification. The Islamic State had dug several new graves and intended to execute at least 70 prisoners near a makeshift prison in Hawija. Sergeant Major Thomas Patrick Payne and his comrades were part of the response team sent to save the hostages.

In the early morning, Kurdish soldiers joined American troops in attempting to raid the prison by air. However, the initial assault failed, and enemy combatants began to fire on Combined Joint Task Force members. Payne and his team had to act fast. They quickly stormed the building and to break the lock on a cell door and liberate 37 prisoners. But danger was lurking around the corner. An explosion was heard on the other end of the prison compound. Payne received word via radio that a suicide bomber had detonated his device.

Without hesitation, Payne rushed across the campus. Once there, he discovered the second prison building was burning, with both soldiers and prisoners trapped inside. Enemy fire was coming from all directions. But Payne and his fellow service members rushed ahead, risking their lives to seek out the remaining hostages. The situation was dire, and soon the building began to collapse. Nevertheless, Payne stayed behind to ensure all the hostages had been evacuated, even as the roof fell around him.

With the hostages finally safe, Payne and other service members formed a protected shield. In this way, they moved safely toward a rescue helicopter. The danger wasn’t over yet, but Payne’s heroic actions had saved over 70 hostages that morning. It was a mission that showcased the bravery and selflessness of the members of the Combined Joint Task Force. Payne’s actions would earn him the Medal of Honor.

thomas patrick payne at the white house
The President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, hosts the Medal of Honor award ceremony in honor of U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne at the White House, Washington, D.C., Sept. 11, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zachery Perkins)

Post-MoH Career

Since receiving the Medal of Honor, Sgt. Major Payne has continued to serve in the U.S. Army as an instructor, sharing his extensive knowledge and experience with future generations of soldiers. As a highly decorated combat veteran, his insights and expertise are invaluable in helping to prepare the next generation of service members for the challenges they will face in the field.

In addition to his role as an instructor, Sgt. Major Payne has become a prominent figure in the military community and beyond, serving as an inspiration and role model to many. He has made numerous public appearances and speeches, sharing his story of heroism and sacrifice with audiences around the country.

Despite his numerous accolades and accomplishments, Sgt. Maj. Payne remains humble and dedicated to his service. He continues to put the needs of his fellow soldiers first and is always looking for ways to contribute to the mission. His selflessness and dedication to duty serve as a shining example to all who know him. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of service members for years to come.