WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump bestowed the Medal of Honor on a U.S. soldier Friday, calling him “one of the bravest men anywhere in the world” for his role in a daring 2015 mission to rescue dozens of hostages who were set to be executed by Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Trump picked the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to honor Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne, who negotiated a barrage of enemy gunfire and repeatedly entered a burning building in a harrowing effort that saved more than 70 hostages. The president said that Payne, who was in high school on 9/11, and his classmates learned about the attacks on the United States from a teacher who solemnly relayed what had happened.
“In that moment, Pat was called to action,” Trump said. “He knew that his country needed him.”
Trump highlighted Payne’s “small-town America” upbringing and his family’s commitment to public service. The soldier grew up in Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff, South Carolina. His wife Alison is a nurse, his father a police officer, and his two brothers serve in the Army and Air Force.
Payne, 36, was assigned to lead a team clearing one of two buildings known to house hostages in a nighttime operation in the northern Iraq province of Kirkuk. The Oct. 22, 2015, raid quickly became complicated.
Kurdish forces working with U.S. troops attempted to blast a hole in the compound’s outer wall, but the blast failed. The explosion alerted the ISIS militants, who opened fire on the Kurdish forces.