President Donald Trump on Friday presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Maj. Thomas Patrick Payne for his roll in the Oct. 22, 2015 rescue of 75 hostages of the Islamic State terror group in Kirkuk, Iraq.
On the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, President Trump presented Payne with medal, which is the nation’s highest military decoration.
In a pre-dawn raid against ISIS on Oct. 22, 2015, Payne and his unit were assigned to assist Kurdish commandos rescuing the hostages. According to the Associated Press, Payne’s unit was meant to only assist and not directly engage with ISIS, however, 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.
According to a White House announcement, Payne led his team through a pair of buildings in an ISIS compound, where the hostages were being held. Payne quickly led his team to clear the first building and rescue the 38 hostages held therein. Then, after hearing a request for additional support to clear the second building, Payne left his secured position and braved enemy fire to assist other members of the rescue team.
Trump said, “Pat turned to one of his fellow soldiers and said ‘let’s get into the fight right now. Let’s get into the fight.'”
Upon reaching the second building, Payne climbed a ladder to the building’s roof, which at that point was partially engulfed in flames. From his rooftop position, he engaged the enemy ISIS fighters below with grenades and small arms fire. After a time, Payne returned to the ground level and continued to fight through a breach hole in the west side of the building.
Payne continued to face enemy fire as well as smoke, heat and flames from the burning to break through a locked door in the second building where hostages were being held. According to the AP, Payne and an Iraqi counterpart took turns running into the burning building with a pair of bolt cutters to cut locks on the door. As Payne would leave to take a break for air, he would trade-off with his Iraqi counterpart who took a turn braving the flames. Payne eventually forced open the door and helped free another 37 hostages.
Payne reportedly 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.
Trump said, “It was one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history.”
Along with rescuing the 75 hostages, Payne and his fellow rescuers fought and killed 20 ISIS fighters.
“Pat you embody the righteous glory of American valor,” Trump said. “We stand in awe of your heroic, daring and gallant deeds. You truly went above and beyond the call of duty to earn our nation’s highest military honor.
Payne joined the Army in 2002, and became an Army Ranger assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2003. 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.
Trump also spoke in remembrance of a U.S. service member killed in the fighting, Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler.
“Today we are deeply moved to be joined by Master Sgt. Wheeler’s wife, Ashley Wheeler,” Trump said. “Ashley, our hearts break for your loss. A great man. That was a great man.”
Trump added, “Our nation endures because of fearless warriors like Josh are willing to lay down their lives for our freedom. Our children can grow up in peace because Josh had the courage to face down evil. Our debt to him and to you is everlasting.”