President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne of the U.S. Army at the White House on Friday for his actions during a daring nighttime hostage rescue of 75 prisoners being held by ISIS in Iraq.
Payne, an Army Ranger, is the first U.S. service member to receive the military’s highest award for heroism in support of the fight against ISIS.
While he was deployed to Iraq in 2015 to support Operation Inherent Resolve, Payne led a combined assault team that liberated hostages at an Islamic State compound. After freeing dozens of captives, Payne received a distress call from another team stationed on the roof of a nearby building that was on fire and taking enemy fire from multiple sides.
"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 said in a statement.
Trump described the rescue near Kirkuk as “one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history,” according to the New York Post.
“As the building began to collapse, Payne received orders to evacuate but he refused to do so. He didn’t want to leave anyone behind. Pat ran back into the burning building that was collapsing two more times. He saved multiple hostages and he was the last man to leave,” Trump said during the ceremony.
Payne’s role in the rescue operation on October 22, 2015, resulted in the freeing of 75 people being held by ISIS and the deaths of 20 enemy fighters killed in action. The 36-year-old sergeant major was awarded the medal on the 19th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the U.S.
"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," said the White House statement. Payne, raised in South Carolina, has brothers serving in the Army and the Air Force.
Payne has served on 17 deployments, including to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, averaging nearly one tour a year. While serving on a tour in Afghanistan in 2010, a grenade blast injured Payne’s knee and he was awarded a Purple Heart.
“Pat, you embody the righteous glory of American valor,” Trump said during his remarks before placing the medal around Payne’s neck. “We stand in awe of your historic, daring and gallant deeds. You truly went above and beyond the call of duty to earn our nation’s highest military honor.”