Soldier to Receive Medal of Honor for Incredible Iraq Hostage Rescue
A U.S. soldier who helped save approximately 70 hostages about to be executed by ISIS militants is receiving a medal of honor for his heroic actions.
Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, a Ranger assigned to the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command, rescued the hostages during a raid in Iraq in 2015.
He will receive the highest honor for valor in combat during a White House ceremony held on the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Initially Paine was given the military’s second-highest honor, but it is now being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Here’s more details on the daring pre-dawn raid, via the AP:
The medal will honor Payne’s actions in a daring predawn raid on Oct. 22, 2015. Seeking to rescue 70 Islamic State hostages, American and Kurdish commandos flew in CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the town of Huwija, located roughly 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
The Kurdish Regional Government, the autonomous body that governs the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, had received a tip that the 70 prisoners, including peshmerga fighters, as the Kurdish forces are known, would soon be massacred by Islamic State militants. Aerial photos of the compound showed what intelligence officials believed to be freshly dug mass graves where their bodies would be dumped.
The plan called for members of the American unit to support the Kurdish commandos in their operation but not join in on the main effort to rescue the prisoners.
“Time was of the essence,” Payne said, according to a news release obtained by the AP and not yet made public. “There were freshly dug graves. If we didn’t action this raid, then the hostages were likely to be executed.”
The raid started off on a negative note, with the Kurdish forces accidentally alerting the ISIS militants of their position with a failed blast entry into the compound’s outer perimeter.
At this point the ISIS militants began opening fire on the Kurdish forces.
While this was happening, Payne and his team managed to scale a wall and enter the prisoner compound. The unit quickly was meet with enemy resistance after breaching the building. They were able to free nearly 40 hostages by breaking the locks off prison doors.
The unit then received a call over the radio from other soldiers who were in the midst of a gunfight in the second structure.
Between 10 to 20 Army soldiers, including Payne and Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler maneuvered towards the second building that Payne said was a “heavily-fortified building, which was partially on fire.” Kurdish commandos were pinned down by the gunfire.
At some point in his attempt to rescue the Kurdish forces, Wheeler was shot and killed. Wheeler was the first American killed in action since the U.S. launched renewed military intervention in Iraq against the Islamic State in 2014. 20 ISIS fighters were also killed in the operation.
The team scaled a ladder onto the roof of the one-story building under a savage fusillade of enemy machine-gun fire from below. From their roof-top vantage point, the commandos engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire, according to the press release.
Payne said at that point, ISIS fighters began to detonate their suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. The team quickly moved off the roof to an entry point for building two.
ISIS fighters continued to exchange gunfire with the commandos as they entered the building. Payne moved to open another fortified door. According to the press release, he managed to cut the first lock, but due to the heavy smoke from the fire, he had to hand off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi counterpart and retreat out of the building for fresh air.
After some time, the Iraqi partner also came out for fresh air. Payne grabbed the bolt cutters and re-entered the building to cut off the last lock. Once the door was kicked opened, both American and Kurdish commandos escorted about 30 more hostages out of the burning building that was about to collapse and under enemy gunfire.
Payne reentered the building two more times to ensure every hostage was freed. One of those times he had to forcibly remove one of the hostages who had been too frightened to move during the chaotic scene, said Payne in the press release.
When Payne initially joined the Army back in 2002 he was an infantryman. It didn’t take long for Payne to become a Ranger. He has gone on several deployments to combat zones during his time in service.
In 2010 Payne received a Purple Heart after sustaining a serious wound during a mission in Afghanistan.
He is a Purple Heart recipient from a wound he sustained in a separate 2010 mission in Afghanistan.
Payne is currently stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he has three children with his wife.