An Army Ranger who helped save 70 hostages during a 2015 raid on an Islamic State group prison compound in Iraq has been approved to receive the Medal of Honor, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, will receive the nation’s most prestigious military decoration in a White House ceremony on Sept. 11, the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the AP reported.
Payne’s actions took place in a predawn raid on Oct. 22nd, 2015, where American and Kurdish commandos flew in Chinook helicopters to a prison compound in the Iraqi town of Huwija in an effort to save 70 Islamic State hostages, including several allied Kurdish peshmerga fighters, the AP said.
Aerial photos showed what was believed to be freshly-dug mass graves near the compound, alarming intelligence officials that the prisoners would be killed soon.
“Time was of the essence,” Payne said in a news release acquired 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.”
Kurdish commandos accidentally alerted Islamic State group militants when they failed to blast a hole in the compound wall, the AP reported. Payne and his unit climbed over a wall, entered the compound, cleared a building, and used bolt cutters to break the locks off the prison doors, freeing the first batch of nearly 40 prisoners, the AP said.
Meanwhile, however, Kurdish commandos in a second building were taking heavy enemy fire. Payne and another soldier, Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, rushed to help. Wheeler was killed when he “fearlessly exposed himself” to the gunfire, according to the citation of the Silver Star he received for his actions that day.
The 39-year-old was the first American to die fighting against ISIS, and his efforts were “critical in achieving the initiative during the most dangerous portion of the raid,” the citation said.
The remaining rescue force scaled onto the roof of the one-story building and engaged the enemy with grenades and small arms fire, the AP reported. ISIS fighters began detonating suicide vests, making the roof shake, at which point the rescue team moved to try to enter building two. Payne entered the burning building twice, taking breaks for fresh air in between the heavy smoke, to cut the lock on the door to the area where the remaining 30 prisoners were being held, the AP said.
After the door to that area was kicked in, Payne went back in two more times to ensure every hostage was freed, and at one point had to forcibly remove one who was too frightened to move during the chaotic scene, the Ranger said, according to the AP.
Though the AP reported Payne as being an Army Ranger, Connecting Vets reported on Wednesday that Payne was, like Wheeler, also a member of Delta Force.
Payne first joined the Army as an infantryman in 2002, the AP reported. He quickly made his way into the Rangers, deployed several times to combat zones with the 75th Ranger Regiment, received a Purple Heart from a wound he sustained in Afghanistan in 2010, and won the Army’s Best Ranger Competition in 2012, after he had made sergeant first class, the AP said.
Payne is married with three children and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is from the South Carolina towns of Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, the AP said.
The approval comes a week after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper endorsed awarding the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, who sustained fatal burns while pulling fellow soldiers out of a burning Bradley fighting vehicle in Iraq in 2005. Cashe previously received the Silver Star for his bravery.