On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry.
On October 22, 2015, during a daring nighttime hostage rescue in Kirkuk Province, Iraq, in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, then-Sergeant First Class Payne led a combined assault team charged with clearing one of two buildings known to house hostages.
With speed, audacity, and courage, he first led his team as they quickly cleared the assigned building, liberating 38 hostages. Then, upon hearing a request for additional assault team members to assist with clearing the other building, Sergeant Payne, on his own initiative, left his secured position. He exposed himself to enemy fire as he bounded across the compound to the other building from which enemy forces were engaging his comrades.
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.
Knowing time was running out for the hostages trapped inside the burning building, Sergeant Payne moved to the building’s main entrance, from which heavy enemy fire had thwarted previous attempts to enter.
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. Upon exiting, Sergeant Payne exchanged his rifle for bolt cutters and again entered the building, ignoring the enemy rounds impacting the walls around him as he cut the locks on a complex locking mechanism. His courageous actions motivated the coalition assault team members to enter the breach and assist with cutting the locks.
After exiting to catch his breath, he reentered the building to make the final lock cuts, freeing 37 hostages. Sergeant Payne then facilitated the evacuation of the hostages despite being ordered to evacuate the collapsing building himself, which was now structurally unsound due to the fire.
Sergeant Payne then reentered the burning building one last time to ensure everyone had been evacuated. He consciously exposed himself to enemy automatic gunfire each time he entered the building.
Sergeant Payne’s extraordinary heroism and selfless actions were key to liberating 75 hostages during a contested rescue mission that resulted in 20 enemy fighters killed in action.
Sergeant Major Payne is part of the 9/11 generation and joined the Army out of a sense of patriotism and duty to serve his country. Service is a theme in Sergeant Major Payne’s family. His wife Alison is a nurse, his father is a police officer, and his two brothers serve in the Army and Air Force. Growing up in Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, South Carolina, Sergeant Major Payne comes from what he characterizes as “small-town America,” and his connection to his home state is a strong part of his personal identity.
Sergeant Major Payne entered into the Army on July 25, 2002, received initial entry training as an Infantryman, and subsequently became an Army Ranger assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2003. In 2010, then-Sergeant First Class Payne was wounded in Afghanistan from a grenade blast. While recovering from his wounds in South Carolina, he met his wife Alison at Lake Murray. Sergeant Major Payne overcame the near career-ending injury and went on to win the 2012 Best Ranger Competition with his teammate.
Throughout his career, Sergeant Major Payne has deployed in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM, ENDURING FREEDOM, NEW DAWN, INHERENT RESOLVE, RESOLUTE SUPPORT, and with the United States Africa Command while serving as a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and holding various positions within the United States Army Special Operations Command.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR:
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their own lives above and beyond the call of duty while:
- engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
- engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
- serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.