Valor Friday

| September 4, 2020

Sgt Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne

This Valor Friday piece is hot off the presses. The medal hasn’t even been awarded yet, in fact, it’s that fresh.

Word came earlier this week that Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne is an Army Ranger assigned to the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). In an odd turn this is all based on anonymous tipsters, no official word has come in. This is likely since the Pentagon and White House are trying to get the medal awarded at a ceremony on September 11th.

As a quiet professional, I can find little in the way of SGM Payne’s personal life or career. He’s from the Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff areas of South Carolina. He’s married and has three children and is currently stationed at Fort Bragg. He enlisted in 2002 to gain everlasting glory in the infantry.

Soon he was a Ranger in the 75th Ranger Regiment. It was there that he served multiple deployments to all the hotspots in the middle east and Southwest Asia. He earned a Purple Heart on a 2010 mission in Afghanistan.

In 2012, representing the United States Army Special Operations Command, Payne competed in the Best Ranger competition. Best Ranger is an annual competition open to two-man teams from any Army unit that has Ranger-coded positions. The grueling competition has a surprise number of events and event types the Rangers will compete in, but here are some examples;

  • Army Physical Fitness Test
  • Employing Mines
  • Foot Marching
  • Movement Under Fire
  • Weapon Qualification (M4, M9, M60, M249)
  • Call For Fire
  • Water Confidence
  • Range Estimation
  • Weapons Assembly
  • Employing Hand Grenades
  • Spot Jumping
  • Prusik Climbing
  • Helocast Swimming
  • Land Navigation
  • Canoeing
  • Knot Tying
  • Obstacle Course
  • Bayonet Course

At the end of the contest in 2012, then-Sergeant First Class Payne and his teammate Master Sergeant Kevin Foutz took the coveted top spot.

In 2015, while deployed to Iraq, Payne would earn the nation’s highest award for combat bravery.

Payne was working in the north of Iraq with the Kurdish Regional Government. The Kurds had received intelligence that 70 hostages were being held by ISIS in the village of Huwija, west of Kirkuk. The intel included a report that the hostages, some of whom were Kurdish fighters (peshmerga as they are known), would soon be executed by ISIS.

Aerial reconnaissance of the area where the hostages were being held revealed freshly dug graves, leading the Rangers and Kurdish commandos no choice but to attempt a rescue immediately.

The plan was for the Americans to support the Kurds, but not to participate in any direct action, leaving that to the local forces. As so often happens, the enemy did not cooperate with the plan. True to the saying, the plan didn’t even make it past the first contact with the enemy.

Hoping to catch the ISIS fighters by surprise, the Kurdish commandos were going to breach an outer wall with an explosive charge. The charge failed to breach the wall, eliminating any element of surprise and trapping the men in the open. ISIS fighters immediately put the Kurds under heavy small arms fire.

Payne and his men climbed over a wall. They went to the first of two buildings suspected of housing the prisoners. Clearing the building, they encountered enemy resistance, but were able to dispatch it quickly. They used bolt cutters to open cells that housed 40 prisoners.

Suddenly, a radio call came in from the second building. They were being engaged by heavy enemy activity from within the heavily fortified building. Ten to twenty Americans, including Payne and Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler meanuevered to the second building to relieve the beleaguered forces.

Despite part of the second structure being on fire, the enemy had the Kurds pinned down with fire. As the Americans attempted to get the Kurds relief, Wheeler was shot and killed, becoming the first American casualty in Iraq since 2014’s renewed push in the country against ISIS.

Payne and his men climbed a ladder onto the roof of the single story structure, again, partly on fire, to try and get to a better position to attack the enemy and help our Kurdish allies. Despite heavy machine gun fire from below, the Americans made it to the roof.

Explosions from within the structure rocked the would-be rescuers. The Daesh fighters were detonating their suicide vests. Each boom shook the roof. Payne and his men pressed the fight, tossing hand grenades and small arms fire into the structure.

Moving to the other side of the building, the men got off the roof and to a door to make entry. They breached the first fortified door, while under fire from the ISIS fighters within. Payne charged through the first door only to find another hardened door.

Payne used the bolt cutters to cut one of two locks, but the building’s fire was causing heavy, acrid smoke. Payne was forced to hand off the bolt cutters to his Iraqi counterpart to retreat for fresh air. The Iraqi came out a short time later, also overcome by the thick smoke.

Payne took the bolt cutters and went back in. Cutting the final lock, he breached the door. Inside they found 30 more hostages, and escorted them out of the building as it began to fall apart around them from the fire and effects from all the explosives.

After all the hostages were out, Payne went back into the unstable, burning building to check for any additional people, not wanting to leave anyone behind. Twice. On one of those runs he had to bodily move a prisoner who had frozen in shock from the chaos.

Army MOH

After a few years of reviewal, Payne’s heroism is combat is being rewarded with the Medal of Honor.

Rangers Lead The Way, indeed! I’m sure more details will come out with the official press release and ceremony.

If the name Thomas Payne rings familiar, there is of course the Founding Father Thomas Paine (interestingly was born with the spelling “Pain”). Paine wrote Common Sense and The American Crisis, two highly influential pamphlets for the cause of American independence.

There’s also another Thomas Payne who received the Medal of Honor. Thomas Henry Louis Payne (1840-1909) who earned his medal at Fort Blakely, Alabama in 1865. A quartermaster sergeant, he volunteered to lead a unit that had no non-commissioned officers into battle.

Lastly, Thomas Benjamin Payne was a lieutenant aboard USS Houston (CA-30). Houston sank in battle with Japanese naval forces in the Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. He was one of only 368 men out of 1,061 aboard to survive the battle. Captured by the Japanese, he was interred for the remainder of the war as a prisoner. Of the 368 survivors to enter captivity, Payne was one of 291 to survive to the end of the war. The tale of USS Houston is one for another day. Perhaps next week…


Category: Army, Army News, GWOT, Iraq, Medal of Honor, Valor, War Stories, We Remember

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5th/77th FA

BZ to SgtMaj Thomas “Patrick” Payne, a Warrior’s Warrior, bringing the pain. Shouldn’t have taken this long to recognize his deserving of this Earning of the Medal of Honor.

Battery Gun Salute…Fire by the piece from right to left…COMMENCE FIRING!!!

Great Story Mason! Keep ’em coming! Tanks!

MI Ranger

Congratulations to SGM Payne, true dedication to his comrades!
By the way I think you had a typo under the Best Ranger weapons qual discussion. It would be M249 SAW not a M246. And don’t forget the Tomahawk throw! (Apparently it has inspired a few bars to add this to their menu since its induction to the event…though it may have been added after he competed)


Congratulations to SGM Payne.

You’ve done the USA, the Infantry, and the Rangers proud.


So he was top Ranger in 2012 and made Sergeant Major in 18 years sure sounds like high speed low drag.

Once he receives the Medal his assignment in the future will be operationally limited. I hope the SgtMaj isn’t stressed too badly by that. I can see where that could have a deleterious effect on someone with his warrior ethos,


Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Hat tip to Jeff LPH 3 for the link. Thanks again, Mason.


[…] talked about SGM Payne last week in my Valor Friday. At the time, information on the quiet professional was […]