Gunfire ripped through the air and explosions rattled the ground as then-U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Patrick Payne peered into a burning building where dozens of ISIS hostages were locked in cells in the northern Iraqi city of Hawija. He knew he had to act or the hostages would die. Payne entered the building, exposing himself to machine gun fire. He used bolt cutters to free the prisoners. For his actions in the Oct. 22, 2015, raid, which ended with the first American service member killed by ISIS since the U.S. return to Iraq in late 2014, now-Sgt. Major Payne, 36, was presented the Medal of Honor by President Trump. The award is an upgrade of the Distinguished Service Cross that Payne initially received in 2017.
He is “one of the bravest men anywhere in the world,” Trump told an audience in the East Room of the White House, which was filled with senior Pentagon officials and Payne’s family.
Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, who was killed by enemy fire during the raid, posthumously received the Silver Star for his actions that day. Payne received the Medal of Honor on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the primary event that convinced him to join the military, as thousands of other Americans did.
In 2007, Sgt. Major Payne joined the Army’s most elite unit in Special Operations at Fort Bragg. He has since served several deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq and in support of counterterrorism operations in Africa. Payne is now an instructor at Fort Bragg, having earned numerous valor awards for battlefield heroics. He is also a Purple Heart recipient.
“I still want to serve to this day,” Payne said. “We're still a nation at war, and I still want to serve my country.”
Pictured: President Donald Trump presents the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Maj.Thomas Payne.