Trump awards Medal of Honor to military hero who freed more than 75 hostages in Iraq

Sgt. Major Thomas Payne receives nation’s highest military award

Payne and his fellow Delta Force members led a daring rescue mission in Iraq that helped saved the lives of dozens of people being held by ISIS terrorists; national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports.

President Trump presented the Medal of Honor Friday to U.S. Army Sgt. Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne for his heroics in a 2015 daring raid that rescued 75 ISIS hostages from a prison in northern Iraq, with Trump praising him as "one of the bravest men anywhere in the world."

Trump hailed Payne's gallant and selfless efforts that led to 20 ISIS terrorists killed and saving the lives of the 75 captives.

President Donald Trump awards the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne in the East Room of the White House on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

"Today he joins the immortal company of our most revered American heroes," Trump said in the White House ceremony. "Pat, you personify the motto: 'Rangers lead the way.'"

Payne, 36, is the first living member of the Delta Force to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration a member of the military can be given.

Payne spoke about the life-or-death urgency of the October 2015 mission in an interview posted by the Army.

"My team was responsible for one of the buildings that the hostages were being held in," Payne said. "What was significant is that there were freshly dug graves, if we didn't action this target then the hostages will probably be executed."

As soon as Payne's team hit the ground in the Kirkuk Province, they came under heavy enemy fire. Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler, another Delta Force operator, was killed after exposing himself to enemy fire. Wheeler's widow, Ashley, attended the ceremony Friday.

After Payne and his team cleared one building – and freed 38 hostages – the sergeant responded to call for assistance in clearing another building.

Working with Kurdish forces, Payne's team pressed on and helped secure one of the largest hostage rescues in history.

"He ran right back into that raging blaze," Trump said of the dangerous rescue. "He sliced the final lock and released the rest of the hostages. As the building began to collapse, he 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," the president continued. "Two more times. He saved multiple hostages and he was the last man to leave."

President Donald Trump awards the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne in the East Room of the White House on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The ceremony took place on the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Part of the 9/11 generation inspired to serve his country, Payne graduated high school in South Carolina and enlisted in the Army in 2002 as an Infantryman 11B and completed the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Ga., according to the Army. He finished his Army Ranger program in 2003.

In 2012, Payne stood out in a grueling physical contest among the nation's most elite soldiers. He and his teammate won the Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning.


In all, Payne has deployed 17 times for Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Inherent Resolve.

Payne was joined at the ceremony by his wife and son.

"I want you to know that your dad is one of the bravest men anywhere in the world," Trump told the 6-year-old.

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report. 

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