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Brian Trusdell
03 September 2020


President Donald Trump will present the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, honoring him for helping lead a helicopter raid and rescue of 70 hostages from Islamic State militants in 2015, The Associated Press is reporting.

Payne will receive his medal, the nation’s highest military decoration, at the White House, the AP said citing an as-yet-undisclosed media release and confirmed by two anonymous Defense Department officials.

Payne’s Special Operations Ranger unit was assigned to support Kurdish commandos, who were to lead the predawn raid on Oct. 22, 2015, at an ISIS base 9 miles outside of Kirkuk, Iraq.

Intelligence indicated, and Payne’s unit confirmed, that there were freshly dug graves at the site, meaning the hostages were likely to be executed in the near future.

After being transported by helicopter, explosives used by Kurdish forces were unable to breach the wall surrounding the compound, awakening ISIS fighters to their presence and forcing the U.S. forces to scale the wall under fire.

Once inside, Payne and his team entered a building where some of the hostages were being held and freed about 40 of them.

After rescuing the first group, an urgent call came from a second team engaged in an intense firefight in another building. Payne and Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler led a group of 10-20 U.S. soldiers toward the “heavily fortified” building partially ablaze.

At some point Wheeler was shot and killed, the first American to die in action against the Islamic State after the U.S. launched operations in 2014.

Payne led his troops by ladder onto the top of the second building under machine gun fire. ISIS militants began detonating suicide vests, shaking the roof and forcing the U.S. soldiers to exit the roof and enter the building.

Still under fire, Payne and his men found a fortified door. Payne was able to use bolt cutters to remove one lock, but smoke forced him to hand off the bolt cutters to an Iraqi counterpart and retreat from the building. The Iraqi also was forced to retreat and Payne seized the bolt cutters and re-entered the building.

He was able to cut off the second lock and free about another 30 men. After the hostages were escorted out, Payne re-entered the burning building twice more to look for anyone left behind, forcibly removing one hostage – who weighed about 200 pounds – who was too frightened to move.


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