Contrary to what President Trump may think of serving members in the military, it takes a special individual to carry out the work of America’s elite Delta Force.
Risking their lives as they face the unknown in the most dangerous regions of the world is part and parcel of their job — which they carry out with unrivalled loyalty.
Such was the case when US military helicopters landed near their objective to rescue 70 Islamic State-held hostages, recalled Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne in a video interview, Military.com reported.
“Ramp drops — it’s complete brown-out, part of the compound was already in a pretty intense firefight,” said Payne of the chaotic operation.
Then-Sergeant 1st Class Payne was the assistant team leader of a group of operators attached to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, which joined Kurdish commandos on a Oct. 22, 2015, nighttime raid to liberate Iraqi hostages from the ISIS prison compound in the northern town of Hawija, Military.com reported.
Fierce close-quarters fighting during the raid claimed the life of Payne’s teammate, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, before the hostages were freed. For his actions that day, Payne will become the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor, multiple sources confirmed to Military.com.
Before the mission began, Payne’s team spent an entire week planning and rehearsing, according to an Army account of the operation. The mission received a green light when intelligence showed the hostages’ lives were in imminent danger.
“What was significant was, there were freshly dug graves, and if we didn’t action this target, then the hostages would probably have been executed,” Payne said.
Payne’s team was responsible for clearing one of the buildings in the compound, Military.com reported.
“As we maneuvered to the building, we threw up the ladders,” Payne said. “The other part of my team went over to their blocking position; that’s when we heard that there was a man down, and it was Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler.”
The momentum stalled briefly when Kurdish forces hesitated at the breach point, Military.com reported.
“That’s when one of my teammates looked them right in the eye and said, ‘follow me,'” Payne said. “We cut the locks on the prison doors and opened the cell.
“There were over 25 hostages in one cell and probably 11 in the other and you see their faces light up and they are being liberated.”
But the fight was far from over.
“While all this was going on, there is still an intense firefight that went on in another building,” he said. “You can see the flames, you hear all the explosions going on. And you hear on the radio an urgent call for assistance.”
Payne’s team responded quickly, moving to the rooftop of the other building while taking heavy fire from the west as well as directly below, Military.com reported.
At that moment, a suicide bomber triggered his explosive vest, unleashing a blast below Payne’s team that shook the building, Payne said.
“Once you are able to control your fear, that’s the bridge to personal courage and personal courage is contagious on the battlefield,” he said.
The team quickly moved under heavy fire to ground level and breached windows and walls to enter the building’s first floor. Once inside, the fighting was intense, Military.com reported.
“One of the teams was holding down the breach point all the way down to their last magazine,” Payne said.
As Payne’s teammates rushed forward, a call came over the radio for a mandatory evacuation because the building was beginning to collapse.
“So my sergeant major is pulling the guys from one of the rooms, and I am like a third-base coach waving them through the initial breach point, and I snatch an ISIS flag off the wall [and] stuff it in my pocket.”
The line of hostages briefly stopped, so Payne grabbed one of them and started moving through the breach point to get them moving again, Military.com reported.
“I went back into the building and noticed that one of the hostages … had basically given up on life,” Payne said. “He was over 200 pounds, a big fellow, so I basically grabbed him by the back of the collar and drug him through the breach point.”
Under heavy fire, Payne and the other commandos then formed a human wall so the hostages in the other building could run behind them and board the extraction helicopters, Military.com reported.
Throughout his career, Payne has deployed 17 times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Inherent Resolve, as well as to the US Africa Command area of responsibility.
He has received numerous valor awards including the Bronze Star Medal with combat “V” device; the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Bronze “V” device; and the Army Commendation Medal with Bronze “V” device with one Silver Oak Leaf Cluster.