“Hey, let’s get into the fight. Let’s go.”
On September 11, 2020, 19 years to the day of the horrible attacks on America, President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne for his actions in Iraq during the rescue operation that freed 70 hostages from imminent execution at the hands of the Islamic State.
Payne will be the first living member of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force or Combat Applications Group to receive the Medal of Honor and the first since two Delta Force Operators received them posthumously in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
The mission which was a joint operation between the United States Special Forces and the Kurdish Special Forces was chaotic from the start. Usually when it comes to military awards, we read the citation and might get a book later which goes into more detail. Sometimes, as in the case of Black Hawk Down, we get a movie. But the United States Army decided to give us an amazing visual on the mission via graphic illustrations.
That’s right, we can see how the rescue mission unfolded that night as Payne, his fellow Delta commandos and the Kurds went in and saved the lives of the hostages.
On October 22, 2015 Payne, then a Sergeant First Class, took off with his team and partner units and made their way toward Hawija, located outside of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. They had intelligence passed on to them that numerous hostages were being kept there in two houses. The Kurds were convinced that the hostages were captured Peshmerga fighters and were eager to get them freed. The teams had practiced for over a week to get their mission down but had to move fast. Freshly dug graves had been spotted outside of the enemy compound and it was feared the hostages would meet a grisly end soon.
Flying in on CH-47s, the rescue mission experienced a brown out upon landing and came under immediate fire from enemy forces. As they made their way toward the compound, the Kurdish troops froze under fire. One of Payne’s teammates looked at them and yelled, “Follow me”. The team moved toward the compound and made their way over the walls.
There were two buildings and the rescue mission involved two groups assaulting each building at the same time. As Payne’s team got to their target, a radio call came over saying that one of the men in the other group was hit. The medic with Payne took off through fire toward the downed man.
The rest of the team entered their objective where they met light resistance. They saw an iron door with a lock on it and cut the lock. Upon opening the door, they saw the excited faces of the hostages. As they rounded up the hostages, another call came over the radio. The second objective wasn’t as easy as the first and the rescue team had met fierce resistance.
Without missing a beat, Payne looked toward his men and said, “Hey, let’s get into the fight. Let’s go.”
If there was ever a mission that Payne and his team was ready for, it was this. It was the reason their unit was created in the first place. The Army won’t admit it, but Payne and the rest of his team belong to a unit informally known as Delta Force.
Known as the best of the best of the United States military, Delta got its start in the late 1970s thanks to LtCol Charlie Beckwith. Beckwith had long pushed for the United States military to have a commando unit that was on par with the British SAS. The spate of terrorist kidnappings that took place in the 70s by Islamic extremists and Far Left European terrorist groups. Beckwith organized and formed the unit and placed an emphasis on counter terrorism. The team relentlessly practiced drills involving hostage rescue. As the years passed, Delta Force became the leaders in clandestine operations and asymmetrical warfare. The standards to get in are high and only the best of the best make it.
Sergeant Major Payne was about to show why he belongs in that group.
Payne led his men toward the second building and made their way to the roof, while taking small arms fire the entire time. Once on top of the building, they took fire from west of the building and from inside it. The enemy was right below them. Payne and his men returned fire and dropped grenades through holes in the roof. They took fire and hear several explosions as ISIS fighters started detonating suicide vests. Realizing they needed another way in, they maneuvered down the steps and set up shop right outside the building. At this point, the structure was on fire with enemy combatants still inside. Even more pressing was that the remaining hostages were locked inside as well.
Payne and his team first tried to breach the windows but couldn’t. They then looked through a door and saw the same type of iron door as the first building. They found the hostages. Payne grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and made his way into the building, only to take on enemy fire. Ignoring the bullets and smoke from the burning building he struggled to get the bolts cut. When the smoke and fire got too thick he had to leave after cutting the first one. A Kurdish soldier ran in to cut the second one but couldn’t because of the gunfire and smoke. Payne then grabbed the cutters and ran back in again.
He managed to get the bolt cut this time. The door swung open and the remaining hostages were in sight. The rest of the team rushed in to engage the enemy, but as they neutralized them another calamity was occurring. The building was starting to collapse. They had to get the hostages out while they were still engaged in a firefight. Payne led the way. Waving them on, he guided them out the room and to safety. When one of the hostages froze, Payne pushed him along and got everyone moving.
By this point the building had gotten so bad, that there was a call to evacuate the structure. The team and the hostages made their way out, with Delta and the Kurds laying down fire as the hostages ran. But Payne didn’t go just yet. He had to make sure they had done their job.
He ran back into the building once more and saw a hostage that had been lying on the floor. He grabbed him off the floor and dragged him to safety. Once out, he went back in one last time.
He had to make sure no one was left behind.
Only after visually making sure that his men, the Kurds and the hostages were all out, did Payne leave. The teams and hostages boarded the helos and took off toward safety. They had done it. They had freed the hostages, but there was a cost.
Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler was the operator that was hit early in the mission. The teams learned only then that he had died. His last words to his men as he led them into the fray was, “On me!”
70 hostages owe their life to Payne and the rest of the rescue team. How close were they to death? They told their rescuers that they were told they would be executed the next day after morning prayers….