On the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks, Sergeant Major Thomas Payne will receive the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry.
In an interview with the Army Times, Navy veteran Payne confirmed he will receive the award for gallantry on Friday at the White House. Sgt. Maj. Payne pointed to September 11, 2001 as the day he decided to enlist.
“I was a senior in high school. I was in class and we turned on the TV after the first plane hit. … That was the defining moment,” Payne recalled. “Once the towers fell on 9/11, that’s when I decided I was going to join the military and I was going to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment.”
An instructor at the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Payne has seen a lot.
As a sergeant first class and assistant team leader in 2015, Payne helped to lead his brothers in arms in the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta during the 2015 hostage rescue mission, as the White House confirmed.
“Ramp drops; we run out of the back of the Chinook helicopter,” Payne said. “It’s a complete brown-out. We are in a pretty intense firefight right off the bat.” Within minutes, there was a casualty. After his group’s medic left to tend to Master Sgt. Joshua L. Wheeler, Payne could see that their Kurdish partners were reluctant to move forward.
“Our partners needed some strong inspiration,” Payne said, but one of his men stepped forward to lead the charge. “Follow me,” he said. “When you’re able to control your fear, that’s the greatest personal courage,” Payne added. “Personal courage is contagious on the battlefield.”