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National Security Desk / Sep. 11, 2020

Profiles of Valor: U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas 'Patrick' Payne

For helping rescue 70 Islamic State hostages, Payne receives the Medal of Honor.

Army Ranger, Sgt. Maj. Thomas ‘Patrick’ Payne, who serves with the USA’s Special Operations Command, is the most recent recipient of the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor for valor in combat. The ceremony was held at the White House on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation.

According to his citation, Payne, then Sgt. 1st Class, “served as an assistant team leader deployed to Iraq as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. On Oct. 22, 2015, his task force was given a mission to rescue over 70 Iraqi hostages being held by ISIS in a prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.”

Intelligence indicated that mass graves had already been dug for the hostages. “If we didn’t action this raid,” Payne said, “then the hostages were likely to be executed.”

American and Kurdish forces landed amidst a raging firefight and were nearly blinded by dust and smoke. Taking casualties along the way, Payne helped guide his team toward their objective — a building where 30 hostages were being held.

Once those hostages were freed, Payne and his team proceeded to a second building to help a second rescue team. Exposing himself to enemy fire and intense smoke, Payne cut two locks to release hostages from the burning building. Payne repeatedly entered the building and dragged two hostages to safety, while he and his team intermittently returned fire against hostile forces, as well as ceasing fire in order to shield hostages and get them safely out of the compound.

Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler was killed during the operation.

The Army’s write-up concludes, “The hostages, Payne’s task force and the partnered forces flew back to Erbil. They had just taken part in one of the largest hostage rescues in history, and for his actions that day, then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Payne would be recommended for the Medal of Honor.”

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