On October 22, 2015, Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne was part of a daring nighttime hostage rescue in the northern town of Hawija, Iraq. Their mission: to free dozens of Iraqi hostages held at a prison by ISIS. Many of them were captured Iraqi security forces personnel, and the task force had learned that they were under imminent threat of execution.
Once the rescue team exited the CH-47 helicopters at the prison, a battle almost immediately erupted. They were able to scale a wall to get into the compound, where they cleared one building and found 38 hostages, who were freed and taken to safety.
An intense firefight was underway in a second building, which had started to burn. Payne and other US soldiers responded to radio calls for assistance from Kurdish soldiers who were pinned down. Through intense gunfire, Payne and another soldier climbed a ladder to the roof where they engaged several enemy fighters on the ground. After an ISIS fighter detonated a suicide vest to try to collapse the building, and all of the other enemy fighters were eliminated, the two men returned to the ground to seek another point of entry.
Payne and a Kurdish commando entered the burning building and faced intense gunfire. He cut one door lock but had to retreat due to the heavy smoke and gunfire. A Kurdish commando tried to cut the second lock but failed. After entering the area again, he was able to cut the last lock and free an additional 30 prisoners. With the building collapsing, the order was given to evacuate. Payne directed everyone out and was the last person to exit after going back in the burning building two more times, to ensure that no one had been left behind.
For his actions that night, Sgt. Maj. Payne became the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor.
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