Medal of Honor Awarded to Delta Force Operator

Ranger and Delta Force veteran of 17 deployments, Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” P. Payne, was today awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for US military personnel displaying “great personal bravery or self-sacrifice”. Payne received the award in recognition for his actions during a hostage rescue operation in Hawijah, northern Iraq in October 2015.

Two objective buildings holding the hostages were identified and a plan developed to assault the location with a helicopter assault force. The assault force trained on mock-ups for a week prior to launch alongside Kurdish YAT commandos. Payne was serving as an assistant team leader and Sergeant First Class when the rescue mission occurred.

After a nighttime landing on the objective in MH-47 Chinooks flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Delta operators and the YAT commandos followed the well-rehearsed plan with blocking positions established and assault elements converging on the target buildings. A Delta team leader, Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler, was killed in action early during the operation as he led his men through a withering crossfire to reach the first objective building. The target was breached and the first hostages were led to safety whilst the firefight against the Islamic State defenders continued unabated. At the second building, assaulters were forced off the roof by enemy fire and the detonation of suicide bomb vests inside the structure, setting it alight.

Delta breachers attempted to explosively breach through the second building’s reinforced windows to no effect, forcing Payne and his then Troop Sergeant Major to enter the building and after several attempts, becoming almost overcome with smoke from the burning structure, Payne managed to cut the locks, freeing more than 30 additional hostages. Payne reentered the now collapsing building twice more; to rescue a hostage overcome by fear and to conduct a final visual check to ensure no ‘friendlies’ were being left behind. As he exited for the final time, he called “last man out” over the radio to inform his colleagues he was clear of the objective.

Sergeant Major Payne on a recent deployment as part of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Personnel Security Detachment (PSD) to General Scott Miller in Afghanistan (Courtesy US Army) 

Payne joined the US Army in 2002 as an infantryman before selecting into 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment the following year. He passed Selection and the Operator Training Course at Delta in 2007. During a Delta Force operation in Afghanistan in 2010, he was grievously wounded by an enemy grenade but later rejoined the Unit and went on to win the 2012 Best Ranger Competition. He is currently an instructor at the Unit.

Sergeant Major Payne and his fellow operators pictured in Northern Iraq in 2017, part of JSOC Task Force 27 (Courtesy US Army/Sergeant Major Payne)

Payne becomes only the third recipient of the award from the Unit and the first living member. The previous two recipients were Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, Delta snipers from 3 Troop, C Squadron, who were killed in action in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. The Unit has shied away from publicly identifying members awarded citations due to their semi-covert role and the fact the mere existence of the Unit remains undisclosed. Those who receive awards (and sadly the fallen) are typically listed as members of an unspecified “special operations team” assigned to United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC).