Today the White House was the scene of a truly unique event. President Trump presented the Medal of Honor to US Army Sergeant Major Thomas Payne. Awarding the Medal of Honor by President Trump has happened eight previous times. What makes this occasion memorable is that SGM Payne is the first member of the Army’s elite Tier One Special Operations unit 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, aka Delta Force, to be awarded the Medal of Honor and live to tell about it. Delta has two other Medal of Honor recipients, Master Sergeants Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart. Their story was told in the 2001 film, Black Hawk Down:
On October 22, 2015, a Delta team joined Kurdish commandos on a raid of an ISIS compound to free some 70 hostages. Time was of the essence as imagery had revealed that the ISIS jihadis had finished digging a series of graves, indicating that the hostages were about to be killed.
This is his story:
This quote is a keeper: “…Once you’re able to control your fear, that’s the bridge to personal courage and personal courage is contagious on the battlefield.”
After flying in on American CH-47 helicopters, the allied assault force reached the prison compound. The initial Kurdish efforts to breach the compound’s outer wall with explosives failed, and ISIS guards began to return fire. With the fight quickly escalating and the threat to the prisoners growing, Wheeler, Payne and the rest of the American team climbed over a wall and entered the prison.
Almost immediately, Wheeler was struck and killed by ISIS gunfire. Continuing forth, Payne and the rest of the team cleared one of the two buildings, cut the locks on the prison doors, and freed almost 40 hostages before rushing to an intense firefight that had begun in the other building. With the first building cleared, Payne and other U.S. Army soldiers moved to assist Kurdish commandoes pinned down by ISIS gunfire. Payne and his team climbed up a ladder and onto a roof as rounds flew overhead. From this rooftop position, Payne and his team engaged the enemy with small-arms and grenades. Seeking to counter this new threat, ISIS fighters tried to collapse the roof by detonating explosive vests in the room below. Payne then moved off the roof and through a fortified door of a burning building with prisoners trapped inside. Payne and a Kurdish commando braved the smoke and fire to cut the doors open with bolt-cutters and rescued 30 more hostages before the building collapsed from the fire and damage taken from enemy gunfire
Despite the danger of the building’s possible collapse, Payne re-entered it two more times to ensure that every possible person had been rescued. The American and Kurdish forces were surprised to find so many more prisoners than initial intelligence had indicated. Instead of finding 20 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, they freed approximately 70 hostages, including more than 20 members of the Iraqi Security Forces. Freeing almost 70 hostages from certain death, the October 22, 2015 action was one of the largest hostage rescues in Special Operations history.
Being a stud is not new to Payne. Here he is in 2010 taking home the “Best Ranger” trophy to Fort Bragg. Keep in mind he did this after suffering wounds from a grenade blast that nearly caused him to be medically discharged in 2010.
Here is the raid, as seen via a helmet camera of a Kurdish commando.
Here is his complete bio.
While an amazing act of bravery is being honored, there is an obvious political dimension. It is 9/11 and one of the parties vying for the White House is basically allied with al-Qaeda, in fact, the Democrat candidate recommended against killing Osama bin Laden. President Trump has been slandered by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg about badmouthing American servicemembers and this was a way of helping get that story out of the way (though it has essentially died by now). Presenting a Medal of Honor on 9/11 is also a nice patriotic touch in a nation where standing for the National Anthem is a controversial activity.
There is one of the key points about the ceremony that will not be noticed:
The Army describes Payne’s career as beginning when he enlisted in 2002 as an infantryman. He was selected to serve in 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in 2003, officials said.
Today is September 11. On this day in 2001, terrorists directed by Osama bin Laden attacked New York City. A year later, Payne enlisted in the Army. Since then, he has deployed to combat 17 times. We have been at war longer than Payne has been in the Army. President Trump is right to try to bring these misadventures to a close and he can’t do it soon enough.