An Army sergeant major who bravely rescued 75 prisoners from the clutches of ISIS in Iraq will receive the military's highest valor award on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 territory attacks, the White House announced Thursday.
Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick" Payne will receive the Medal of Honor Sept. 11 at the White House for his actions during a "daring nighttime hostage rescue" Oct. 22, 2015, while he was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition fight against ISIS.
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Payne led a combined assault team in liberating hostages during two separate risky forays.
"With speed, audacity, and courage, he first led his team as they quickly cleared the assigned building, liberating 38 hostages," the White House said in a statement. "Then, upon hearing a request for additional assault team members to assist with clearing the other building, Sergeant Payne, on his own initiative, left his secured position. He exposed himself to enemy fire as he bounded across the compound to the other building from which enemy forces were engaging his comrades."
After engaging enemy fighters from the roof of that now-burning building, he returned to ground level, fighting his way toward the entrance in a race to save the hostages still inside. Others on the ground had been thwarted from entering due to the fire inside.
"Sergeant Payne knowingly risked his own life by bravely entering the building under intense enemy fire, enduring smoke, heat, and flames to identify the armored door imprisoning the hostages," the White House statement reads. "Upon exiting, Sergeant Payne exchanged his rifle for bolt cutters and again entered the building, ignoring the enemy rounds impacting the walls around him as he cut the locks on a complex locking mechanism. His courageous actions motivated the coalition assault team members to enter the breach and assist with cutting the locks."
Payne's Medal of Honor award was first reported Sept. 2 by the Associated Press, which also reported that the hostages included Kurdish pershmerga fighters facing impending execution by ISIS militants.
For Payne, an 18-year soldier and the 2012 winner of the Army's Best Ranger competition, the date of his medal presentation is significant, according to White House releases.
"Sergeant Major Payne is part of the 9/11 generation and joined the Army out of a sense of patriotism and duty to serve his country," the announcement states.
It also notes that Payne comes from a tradition of service, with two brothers in the Army and Air Force. His wife, Alison, is a nurse.
"Growing up in Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, South Carolina, Sergeant Major Payne comes from what he characterizes as 'small-town America,' and his connection to his home state is a strong part of his personal identity," the White House said.
Payne is also a Purple Heart recipient who sustained wounds from a grenade blast in 2010 during a deployment to Afghanistan. Though the wound was nearly "career-ending," according to the release, he'd overcome it and go on with a teammate to win the grueling Best Ranger competition.
Payne will be the first U.S. service member to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in support of the fight against ISIS.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.