An Army Ranger assigned to the U.S. Army's Special Operations Command will be awarded the Medal of Honor Sept. 11 for his actions in a 2015 raid that rescued approximately 70 prisoners from Islamic State militants in Iraq, according to the Associated Press.
President Donald Trump will award the nation's highest award for military valor to Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick" Payne in a White House ceremony set for the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Payne will receive the medal for his actions Oct. 22, 2015, as a member of an American and Kurdish raid force that sought to rescue 70 prisoners — including Kurdish peshmerga fighters — from a compound in the town of Huwija, Iraq, roughly 9 miles west of Kirkuk. The Kurds and Americans had reliable intelligence reports that ISIS was planning to kill the prisoners.
"Time was of the essence," Payne said, according to the AP. "There were freshly dug graves. If we didn't action this raid, then the hostages were likely to be executed."
Fast rope training with US Army Special Operations Aviation Regiment forces. US Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite.
When ISIS militants opened fire after Kurdish forces attempted and failed to breach the compound with an explosive, Payne and his unit climbed over a wall, entered the compound, and quickly cleared one of the two buildings where the prisoners were held, the AP reported.
Clearing through the building, the team used bolt cutters to break locks off prison doors and free nearly 40 hostages.
After other task force members reported they were engaged in an intense firefight at the second building, between 10 to 20 soldiers, including Payne and Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, maneuvered toward the second building, which was heavily fortified and partially on fire.
"The team scaled a ladder onto the roof of the one-story building under a savage fusillade of enemy machine-gun fire from below. From their roof-top vantage point, the commandos engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire," the AP reported. "Payne said at that point, ISIS fighters began to detonate their suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. The team quickly moved off the roof to an entry point for building two."
As ISIS fighters continued to exchange gunfire with the raid force as they entered the building, Payne worked to open another fortified door, cutting the first lock before heavy smoke from the fire forced him to hand off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi counterpart and retreat out of the building for fresh air.
Rangers pull security while conducting a night raid in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
After the Iraqi partner had to retreat for fresh air, Payne grabbed the bolt cutters and reentered the building to cut off the last lock. After kicking open the door, the commandos escorted about 30 more hostages out of the burning building, which was about to collapse and still taking enemy gunfire.
Payne reentered the building two more times to ensure every prisoner was freed, having to forcibly remove one of the prisoners who had been too frightened to move during the chaotic scene, according to the AP.
Payne joined the Army in 2002 as an infantryman and has deployed several times to combat as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and in various positions with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for a wound he sustained in Afghanistan in 2010, according to the AP report. Payne also won the Army's Best Ranger Competition as a sergeant first class representing USASOC in 2012. He is married with three children and is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is from the South Carolina towns of Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff.
The news of Payne's Medal of Honor comes just nine days after another soldier was recommended for the extraordinary honor.
In a letter to lawmakers Aug. 24, Defense Secretary Mark Esper endorsed a proposal to upgrade to a Medal of Honor the Silver Star Medal Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe was awarded after he died of the catastrophic burns he suffered while pulling six soldiers from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Iraq, on Oct. 17, 2005.