"Patrick" Payne's Drive To Serve, Heroics
by Sean Kimmons, Defense Media Activity - Army
September 12, 2020
Sgt. Maj. Thomas “Patrick” Payne fondly recalls the summer of
2010, even if it began with a grenade blast that shattered his knee.
After assessing the damage, a surgeon told Patrick ... a Ranger
in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command ... that if he couldn’t
get his knee to bend properly again, his career would be over.
Discouraged by the setback, he was sent home to central South
Carolina to focus on his recovery.
His mother, a schoolteacher with the summer off, and his father,
a law enforcement officer who always tried to keep his son humble,
helped with his physical therapy. They nursed him, carefully
exercised his knee, and offered encouraging words.
Reflecting on it, Patrick, now 36, said he had personally brought
the war to his parents, as they cared for a wounded Soldier
thousands of miles from Afghanistan.
While a frustrating and worrisome time, his parents still
gathered their emotions and gave him the motivation he needed.
In battle, he said, Soldiers feed off each other’s
personal courage when carrying out daring missions. And as he
recuperated at home, he fed off his parents’ inspiration as they
desperately tried to get him back to his old self.
“There comes a time when sympathy
is over,” Patrick said. “It’s time to get to work and get back out
The fire he had inside of him grew brighter, leading
him to be more disciplined with his therapy. He later fully
recovered and improved as a Soldier, pulling off an extraordinary
mission in 2015.
On Sept. 11, he will receive the Medal of
Honor for that mission in Iraq, in which he and others rescued about
75 hostages facing imminent execution by ISIS fighters.
Growing up near Fort Jackson, Patrick was drawn to the
military at an early age.
When the post held its annual
Fourth of July celebration, his father would take him so he could
climb on the tanks, helicopters and other equipment on display.
“As a kid, I wanted to be like a G.I. Joe,” Patrick said,
smiling. “I was always fascinated with the military.”
to one of the Army’s largest posts, his hometowns of
Batesburg-Leesville and Lugoff were saturated in military pride. And
it rubbed off on him and many others.
including his two brothers and most of his cousins, signed up for
the military, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, an Army
veteran who fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Former Marine Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who received the Medal of
Honor in 2014, had also grown up in Batesburg-Leesville.
shows the value of our veteran community, how they inspired us,”
Patrick said. “Hopefully we can make them proud.”
9/11 attacks occurred, leaving the nation in shock, Patrick knew it
was his time to step up.
At 17 and eager to serve, he first
tried to join the Marine Corps, but his mother refused to sign his
waiver to enlist.
As his 18th birthday slowly approached, he
researched more about his future decision. Then, one day while
watching ESPN, he saw highlights from the Army’s Best Ranger
He was hooked.
Throughout his childhood,
his father had always urged him to be the best in whatever he did in
life. And after his recent discovery, the best to Patrick became the
75th Ranger Regiment.
“When I initially enlisted, I wanted to
be surrounded by guys like that,” he said.
At first, his
ambitions were cast aside. Standing at 5 feet, 11 inches and 120
pounds, few people believed the scrawny teen could pass the Ranger
Indoctrination Program, now known as the Ranger Assessment and
“I was a pretty skinny kid,” said Patrick,
who has since gained about 60 pounds of lean muscle. “Even my
recruiters said, ‘You were our last pick, we didn’t expect you to
But “you look for opportunities and capitalize on
them,” he added. “I was given an opportunity and sometimes that’s
all you need to prove yourself.”
would go on to prove himself in numerous deployments, most of them
shorter tours, to places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Out of action with a broken knee in the summer of 2010, though,
Patrick faced the biggest hurdle of his career. But it also led him
to the next chapter of his life.
Later that summer, while
relaxing at Lake Murray on a mutual friend’s boat, Patrick, still
wearing a large knee brace, first met Alison. The two hit it off and
they exchanged numbers.
Patrick was ready to test his knee
and Alison, who ran cross country and played lacrosse in college,
agreed to help. They decided to return to the lake for their first
date, a short run along the dam.
Both joined in other runs
that summer, and even raced in a sprint outside his parent’s home.
She ended up winning, prompting playful teases from his father that
nudged him to do better.
Finally fit for duty again, Patrick
returned overseas and kept in contact with Alison. A few years
later, they married and eventually had three children.
natural for him,” Alison said of her husband’s dedication to serve.
“It’s what he’s always wanted to do. He’s a fish in water in that
Patrick admits he initially struggled to
overcome his injury until his parents and Alison stepped in.
“I wasn’t really pushing myself to reach my full capability at that
time,” he said. “I had to come away with a vengeance and push it
every single day.”
Less than two years later, Patrick would
win the Army’s Best Ranger Competition -- the very same contest that
convinced him to join the service.
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas "Patrick" Payne, right, with his teammate, Master Sgt. Kevin Foutz, after winning the Best Ranger Competition
on April 15, 2012. Payne described this as an impactful moment for him and his family.
Previously injured in 2010, Payne worked to regain his health, marking a full recovery to win the competition. (U.S.
Army photo by Richy Rosado)
Still, more work was in
store for him.
THE HOSTAGE RESCUE
Patrick’s unit had
less than a month left in their Iraq tour when the request from the
Kurdish Regional Government rolled in.
Dozens of Iraqi
security forces personnel had been captured and would soon be killed
by ISIS fighters inside a prison in Hawija, located between the
Tigris River and Kirkuk.
“Our partners came to us for
assistance and we’re not going to let them down,” Patrick said.
“Time was of the essence. There were freshly dug graves. If we
didn’t action this raid, then the hostages were likely to be
Patrick, a sergeant first class assigned to the
U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was part of a joint task force
in Irbil that was given a week to prepare for the risky hostage
Intelligence reported the hostages were being housed
in two buildings inside the heavily-fortified compound. Payne, an
assistant team leader, and his team would be responsible for
clearing one of them.
In the early morning of Oct. 22, 2015,
pre-mission anxiety spread throughout the cabins of CH-47 Chinook
helicopters as they lifted off. The flight was eerily quiet until
the pilots gave the one-minute call, instantly changing the mood.
“That’s when you make that transition from Soldier to warrior,”
Patrick said. “Once wheels are down on the objective and the ramp
drops, that’s when your training totally takes over.”
complete brownout ensued as the helicopter rotors stirred up dust
into the night sky. Using their night vision googles, Payne and
others navigated to the wall of the compound as enemy gunfire
Before his team was able to get to the wall, a “man
down” call came over the radio from another team.
seconds before, Master Sgt. Josh Wheeler, a member of the task
force, had decided to move ahead to help their Kurdish partner force
pinned by a barrage of enemy bullets.
“Our partner force was
caught in a perfect interlocking sectors of fire and we had to step
in,” Patrick recalled.
Wheeler looked back to a teammate and
said “on me” as he led the charge to the sound of gunfire.
After he was shot, the medic in Patrick’s team rushed over to assist
Wheeler as the rest of the team threw a ladder against the wall and
climbed over into the enemy stronghold.
In a mission with
multiple valor awards, including Wheeler’s Silver Star, many actions
occurred within just three minutes of the intense firefight.
Patrick’s team meanwhile had light resistance as they cleared their
Once inside, the team saw two rooms with
steel prison doors. They used bolt cutters, but struggled with the
thick locks until finally piercing through them.
As the doors
swung open, nearly 40 hostages realized they had been rescued.
“You can see their faces light up,” Patrick said. “Some of them
are taken aback that they’re seeing our partner force and Americans
all in the same room.”
But there was no time to celebrate as
the radio echoed an urgent call for help from other task force
members still being engaged at the second building.
glanced back to one of his teammates: “I told him, ‘let’s get in a
fight’ and he gave me the head nod.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick" Payne conducting a security patrol while on a mission in northern Afghanistan in 2014. (Courtesy photo from U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick" Payne)
They left their secured
position, bounding about 30 yards to the one-story building that was
partially on fire from the ongoing battle.
A sustained rate
of enemy machine-gun fire shot out from below, so Patrick and others
scaled a ladder to the rooftop. From a vantage point on the roof,
they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire.
Insurgents began to scream “allahu akbar” and detonated their
suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. At the same time, smoke
billowed out from the roof and enemy gunfire targeted them from the
After maneuvering back to the ground level, Patrick and
his team attempted to gain entry through the windows with explosive
charges. But they failed to puncture through the sheets of metal and
plywood blocking the windows.
Full of adrenaline and willing
to risk his life for the remaining hostages, Patrick moved to the
initial breach point where a few of the partner forces had just been
Patrick quickly peeked through the breach point and
saw the same prison door as the ones in the previous building. He
grabbed the bolt cutters and decided to head back in.
barricaded enemies firing rounds toward him, Patrick reentered the
structure as other task force members covered him.
personal courage is just feeding off of each other,” he said. “At
that point, it’s snowballing.”
The building was now
completely on fire and the flames cooked off ammunition from a
nearby weapons cache.
Amid the smoke and chaos, Patrick
managed to snip one of the locks off the door before he rushed
outside for air and handed the bolt cutters to a Kurdish partner.
After he came back out, Patrick took the tool again to sheer off the
last lock and kicked open the door.
Still being shot at by
the enemy, Patrick and others escorted approximately 30 more
hostages out of the charred building, which was about to collapse.
“We had to use speed to our advantage,” he said.
line of hostages flowed out of the building, one of the hostages
refused to go as enemy bullets whizzed by. Partially concealed by
the smoke, Patrick returned and forcibly pulled him out to safety.
Still hearing the Arabic yells from the enemy just feet away,
Patrick then made one last check inside to ensure all the hostages
“My focus was the hostages,” he said. “That was our
Satisfied, Patrick called “last man out” and bolted
outside to help his teammates get the hostages out of the compound
and onto the waiting helicopters.
The heroic mission left at
least 20 insurgents dead, but it came at a cost. Once they returned
to Irbil, Patrick and others learned that Wheeler did not survive.
LEGACY LIVES ON
Since that day, Patrick has continually
reflected on Josh Wheeler’s selfless service as well as that of his
While he miraculously survived with only minor
smoke inhalation, Patrick felt compelled to honor Josh’s memory. So,
when it was time to name their second son, Patrick and Alison chose
“For us, it’s how his legacy lives on,” Patrick said.
“He is an American hero.”
Coming from a family where military
service is also respected, Alison said it was fitting to name him
after such a leader.
“I thought that was a great gesture,”
she said. “Those are values that we certainly want to instill in our
For his actions, Patrick was initially awarded the
Army's second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross, which
was later upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
But, to him, the
medal belongs to all those who were with him that October morning.
When President Donald Trump called him to say he would be given
the military’s highest honor, Patrick was surrounded by some of
those same men.
“Taking that call with my teammates, it was a
pretty special moment for us,” he said.
The mission, Patrick
said, highlighted the nation’s undying commitment to life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness -- all of which those hostages were
given a second chance on.
watching released video footage from the mission, Patrick’s father,
Drayton Shealy, said it was hard to believe at first that his son
was so courageous.
U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick" Payne, right, poses for a photo with his father, Drayton Shealy, a pilot and police officer for Richland County Sheriff's Dept. in South Carolina
on June 25, 2020. Payne said he takes pride in being part of a family of service.
(Courtesy photo from U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas "Patrick"
Like most children, a young Patrick pushed
the boundaries. He’d get a little mouthy and needed an attitude
adjustment at times, Shealy said.
Over the years, though, his
father witnessed Patrick become a man, a husband and then a father.
“And I’m just in awe of this Soldier that he has become,” he
said. “It is an amazing transformation that you wish that all
parents could see.”
While proud of his son, Shealy still
wanted to ensure that no matter how many medals were pinned onto his
chest, they wouldn’t bloat his ego.
“One of the things I told
him is that it’s going to be hard to be Clark Kent after you’ve been
Superman,” Shealy said, “because we just like to keep him grounded.”
Shealy, who was 20 years old when Patrick came into his life,
said his son also helped him toe the line, forcing him to be more
And as Patrick grew up, Shealy said he strived
to provide him a pleasant life out in the country, with a little
church and some simple rules to live by.
“It’s good,” Patrick
said, realizing his father’s attempts to instill humility made him
into the Soldier he is today. “My dad now sees that I’ve come full
circle from a boy to a grown man.”
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