Sept. 12 (UPI) — President Donald Trump presented the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne on Friday, calling his actions saving dozens of hostages facing execution in Iraq “heroic.”
The ceremony took place at the White House on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Medal of Honor is the most prestigious military award, given to service members who set themselves apart by an act of valor.
“Pat, you embody the righteous glory of American valor,” Trump said to Payne. “We stand in awe of your heroic, daring and gallant deeds.
“You truly went above and beyond the call of duty to earn our nation’s highest military honor.”
Payne said the medal was an honor.
“The Hawija hostage rescue raid on October 22, 2015, underlined our country’s undying commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Members of the United States Special Operations Command risked their lives. Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler gave his life in order to liberate the oppressed,” he said.
“Therefore, the liberated now has a second chance at the pursuit of happiness. The actions by my teammates were truly awe inspiring. Makes you proud to be an American. … The spirit of the Medal of Honor lives inside every American. Thank you.”
Payne, an Army Ranger and native of South Carolina, earned the honor for his actions during Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military’s mission to fight the IS in Iraq and Syria.
Assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Payne was deployed to Kirkuk province to assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against the terror group. Their mission Oct. 22, 2015, was to raid an IS prison near Hawija where more than 70 hostages, mostly captured security forces, were being held.
“It was one of the largest and most daring rescue missions in American history,” Trump said.
The team faced gunfire and detonations from suicide vests during the mission, leaving one U.S. soldier, Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler, dead. Twenty militants also died that night.
“Time was of the essence,” Payne told the Army News Service. “There were freshly dug graves. If we didn’t action this raid, then the hostages were likely to be executed.”
The White House said after the team freed 38 of the hostages, Payne took it upon himself to leave his secured position to moved to another building where enemy forces were firing on his teammates.
“Sergeant Payne climbed a ladder to the building’s roof, which was now partially engulfed in flames, and engaged the enemy fighters below with grenades and small arms fire. He then moved to ground level, engaging enemy forces through a breach hole in the west side of the building,” the White House said in a release.
“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.”
Payne entered the building, cut the locks and freed another 37 hostages.
The Army awarded Payne its second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions that day.
Payne enlisted in the Army in 2002, serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Inherent Resolve. He’s now an instructor assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
He was initially assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment where he served as a sniper and sniper team leader. He was wounded in a 2010 mission in Afghanistan, earning him the Purple Heart award.
In 2012, Payne and a teammate won the Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning in Georgia.