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AP Report: Army Ranger to receive Medal of Honor for heroic rescue of 70 ISIS hostages

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Payne (left) and Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz speak after winning the 2012 Best Ranger competition. (Lori Egan, U.S. Army Fort Benning Public Affairs Office/Released)
September 02, 2020

Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, a U.S. Army Ranger, is reportedly set to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for the heroic rescue of 70 hostages from the Islamic State terror group in Iraq in 2015.

The Associated Press reported, based on comments from two unnamed Department of Defense officials, that Payne will be awarded the Medal of Honor. The officials said Payne will receive the U.S. military’s highest decoration in a ceremony on Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that set off the global war on terror.

In a pre-dawn raid against ISIS on Oct. 22, 2015, Payne and his unit were assigned to assist Kurdish commandos rescuing the hostages. While his unit was meant to only assist and not directly engage with ISIS, Payne lept into action after Kurdish commandos tried unsuccessfully to breach the ISIS compound where the hostages were and accidentally alerted the ISIS militants therein.

Payne and his unit scaled the wall of the ISIS compound and quickly cleared one of two buildings where the hostages were being held, freeing 4o in the first house. Braving enemy gunfire, Payne and Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler and some other members of his team moved on to a second partially burning building where a gun battle was taking place between ISIS fighters and Kurdish commandos.

During their effort to reinforce the Kurdish forces battling ISIS, Wheeler was shot and killed. Wheeler was the first American killed in action since the U.S. returned to Iraq in 2014 to assist in the fight against ISIS.

Facing enemy fire, Payne and his team climbed a ladder to the roof of the one-story building, wherefrom their rooftop vantage point they were able to engage the enemy ISIS fighters with hand grenades and small-arms fire. As ISIS fighters began detonating suicide vests and damaging the building, Payne and his team left their rooftop position.

Payne and an Iraqi counterpart entered the partially burning building where they took turns attempting to cut open locked doors with bolt cutters. As they worked, the fires continued to burn and smoke made it difficult for Payne and his Iraqi counterpart to breathe. Payne had to hand off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi counterpart while he went outside to breathe fresh air. After his counterpart ran outside for air, Payne again took up the bolt cutters and rushed back into the building to cut the last set of locks and then bust open the room where the remaining 30 hostages were being held.

Payne helped free the hostages and returned to the burning building twice to ensure all were safe. In his last run into the building, Payne had to forcibly remove a hostage who was too scared to leave the building.

Since joining the Army in 2002, Payne entered the service as an infantryman and soon joined the elite Army Rangers. He reportedly deployed several times as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and in various other capacities within the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). His prior decorations include a Purple Heart medal for wounds he sustained in a separate mission in Afghanistan in 2010. Payne also won the Army’s 2012 Best Ranger Competition, representing USASOC at the time.

Payne is married, with three children. He remains in active service and is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Payne is the second U.S. Army soldier reportedly being considered for the U.S. military’s highest honor within the past week. Last week Fox News reported Defense Secretary Mark Esper endorsed awarding the medal to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe, who after his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, sustained second and third-degree burns returning to his damaged vehicle to save six fellow soldiers. Though he was not injured in the initial attack, Cashe disregarded his own safety and suffered fatal burns to save his teammates.