Salute to Service: Sgt Major Thomas P. Payne
On October 22, 2015, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, Assistant Team Leader and then Sergeant First Class Thomas P. Payne led a team into battle to rescue hostages being held by ISIS terrorists in Kirkuk Province, Iraq. Once on scene, Sgt Payne raised the ladders to breach the security wall and prepared his team and fellow Kurdish forces to enter the first building, while other teams prepared to breach the second building and free hostages. Meeting little resistance, Sgt Payne and his team were able to cut the locks and then freed 25 hostages in the first building.
The second building was not so simple. An intense fire fight broke out in the other building and the second team radioed for help. After securing the first set of hostages, Sgt Payne quickly turned to his teammate and said, “Hey, let’s get in the fight!” His teammate responded, “Let’s go!”
Rushing to the aid of the second team, Sgt Payne and his teammate ran to the roof of the second building. Sgt Payne and his teammate engaged the enemy to the west and insurgents below. He then heard ISIS terrorists ignite their suicide vests and the explosion shook the whole building. Because of this, Sgt Payne was not able to get to the hostages from the roof and had to find another way inside.
Dodging enemy fire, Sgt Payne, and one of his teammates, was able to get to the first floor of the second building. Sgt Payne eventually found the prison cell where the remaining hostages were being held.
The hostages were running out of time as the building around them was on fire, with dense smoke quickly filling the building. In order to free these hostages, Sgt Payne and his team would need to battle not only the enemy and the fire, but also cut through two thick locks on the hostage’s door. Sgt Payne knew that if he didn’t get those two locks cut from the prison door and get those prisoners out, they would face certain death. After acquiring some bolt cutters, Sgt Payne exposed himself to the enemy, while receiving cover fire from his Sergeant Major and other teammates, to cut the first lock successfully.
But the struggle continued. Because of the billowing smoke and hail of enemy gun fire, Sgt Payne had to drop back to a safer position and was unable to cut the second lock. The supporting Kurdish forces tried to cut the lock, but failed.
Once again, disregarding his personal safety, Sgt Payne made an attempt on the second lock. Battling enemy bullets, smoke, raging heat, and difficulty breathing, Sgt Payne finally cut the second lock and had access to the remaining hostages.
As the American forces prepared the hostages to evacuate, an urgent transmission came across the radio to prepare for mandatory evacuation due to the building about to collapse. With a structurally compromised building, smoke everywhere, and still taking enemy fire, Sgt Payne and his men were able to direct and get the hostages out of the burning building.
Going back in to check for any remaining personnel, Sgt Payne noticed one of the hostages was having issues and needed help to get out. Sgt Payne took it upon himself to drag the hostage to safety and then entered the building for a third time. After checking the building for one last time, Sgt Payne gave the “Last Man” call.
The American and Kurdish forces were given the “ok” to prepare for extraction, despite continuing to face enemy fire. Sgt Payne’s team rushed the hostages out to the extraction point and safely loaded them onto the helicopters. Because of his actions on that historic day, Sgt Payne was recommended for the Medal of Honor.
On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump awarded Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne the Medal of Honor for going above the call of duty during Operation Inherent Resolve. To this day, Operation Inherent Resolve is the largest hostage rescue in Special Operations history.
For more on Sgt Payne's incredible story, check out the video below.
Additionally, to check out the impressive battle sketch, click the image.
Sources: Army.mil | Battle Sketch | Medal of Honor Museum