Batesburg Leesville, SC (Paul Kirby) – A US Army Ranger from Batesburg-Leesville in Lexington County has been approved to receive the Medal of Honor, the US military's highest honor for valor in combat, according to an article at military.com. This honor will be awarded to Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne for his actions to help rescue 70 hostages who were being held and set to be executed by Islamic militants in Iraq in 2015. Payne also lists Lugoff as his co-hometown.
According to the article that was published on September 3rd and was written by AP journalist James Laporta, the presentation will be made at the White House in a ceremony on September the 11th of this year. This is the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, the Pentagon, and US Airways Flight 93, an aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania after it had been seized by Al Qaeda operatives. The Pentagon has now released a YouTube video confirming this.
Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne, a Ranger assigned to the US Army's Special Operations Command will be the recipient of the award. He was a 1st sergeant at the time of his actions. According to the military.com article, Payne was involved in a pre-dawn raid in Iraq in October of 2015. American and Kurdish commandos were helicoptered into the town of Huwija which is approximately 9 miles west of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. They were going there to rescue 70 Islamic State hostages. According to officials, the government had credible intelligence that the hostages would be massacred. They even had aerial photographs that showed a freshly dug mass grave where the bodies would be buried afterward.
Military.com’s story details how Plan A of the mission immediately failed. That plan included having Kurdish commandos blast a hole in the outer wall of the compound. The explosion didn’t breach the wall but did alert the militants in the compound. They opened fire on the Kurdish forces.
Plan B had a special forces unit from the United States Army that included Sergeant Major Payne climb over a wall using a ladder to enter the compound. Once inside, they encountered enemy resistance, but they were able to force open prison doors, quickly freeing nearly 40 of the hostages.
In another part of the compound, a Kurdish commando unit was pinned down by gunfire. Sergeant Major Payne and between 10 and 20 other US Army soldiers were able to make their way onto the roof of a one-story building while taking heavy machine gunfire from the ground. From their vantage point on top of that building they were able to engage the enemy with their weapons, according to the story.
At some point in the battle, Sergeant Major Payne, along with soldiers from his unit, were able to enter another building in the enemy compound where prisoners were being held. That building was on fire at the time. They began freeing prisoners from cells inside the burning building but eventually had to retreat for fresh air. After catching their breath, they returned to the interior of the building and were able to free 30 more hostages as the structure threatened to collapse. During this process, they were under constant, heavy enemy gunfire.
Learning that one of the hostages was too frightened to flee the building, Sergeant Major Payne reentered himself, took the man by force, and brought him out of the building. During this operation, Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler was killed. Wheeler was the first American killed in action after the United States renewed their military intervention in Iraq to fight ISIS in 2014.
Sergeant Major Payne enlisted in the US Army in 2002 and eventually went to US Army Ranger School. He deployed in combat zones several times and was a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He also held several positions in the United States Army’s Special Operations Command.
See the DOD's video regarding Master Sgt. Payne's actions.