Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism and selfless actions that were key to liberating 75 hostages under fire during a rescue mission five years ago in Hawija, Iraq. The Congressional Medal of Honor citation reads in part, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on October 22, 2015. Sergeant First Class Payne’s gallantry under fire and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the United States Special Operations Command, and the United States Army.”
The South Carolina youth had originally joined the Army after 9/11, inspired by patriotism and a desire to defend the United States. Payne served as a sniper and sniper team leader in the 75th until November 2007, when he was selected for assignment to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. He would endure 14 deployments before the day of October 22, 2015, when then-Sergeant First Class Payne—as part of a joint task force assisting Iraqi security forces—in what was dubbed OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE-raided an ISIS prison to liberate 70 hostages, after a request by the Kurdistan government.
Payne and his fellow Rangers continued to receive constant fire from the enemy as they first tried to enter the building through the roof before moving to the ground level after several blasts from suicide bombers from the floor below caused the building to partially collapse. Payne navigated to the front door and saw the captives were being held behind a metal door secured by two very heavy padlocks.
His team breached windows and walls to enter the building’s first floor. Once inside, the fighting was intense and commandos began taking casualties. “One of the teams was holding down the breach point all the way down to their last magazine,” Payne said. “Bullets were passing through their uniforms.” Though the building was on fire and partly collapsed, he grabbed a pair of bolt cutters and, through flame and smoke, succeeded in cutting one of the locks before scorching heat forced him to flee the building for some air.
He ran back in seconds later and cut the final lock as the building began to collapse. He received orders to evacuate, but refused to do so before all the disoriented hostages were led to safety. Still receiving enemy fire, Payne entered the building two more times, to drag an incapacitated hostage from the building and again to make sure everyone was out, before he gave the “last man” call so the task force could prepare for extraction.
Under heavy fire, Payne and the other commandos then formed a human wall so the hostages in the other building could run behind them and board the extraction helicopters. The hostages, Payne’s task force and the partnered forces flew back to Erbil, having just taken part in one of the largest hostage rescues in history. His heroism and selfless actions were key to liberating 75 hostages during a contested rescue mission that resulted in 20 enemies killed in action. Payne is the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor.
Payne has not talked about his connection to Delta, but said he views the Medal of Honor as a sacred responsibility as a tribute to fallen heroes. “The Medal of Honor represents everything great about our country, and for me I don’t consider myself a recipient of this medal,” Payne said. “I consider myself a guardian of this medal and what’s important to me is my teammates’ legacies will live on with this Medal of Honor.”