Via WaPo, he’s the first American soldier to receive the medal for actions during a battle with ISIS and the third member of Delta Force to be so honored. You know the names of the other two: Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon, who volunteered to defend the crew of a downed Black Hawk helicopter from an advancing mob of militiamen in Mogadishu in 1993 and paid with their lives.
Footage of today’s White House ceremony is embedded below, as is the Army’s video detailing Payne’s heroism. Today’s date is significant: Payne has said that the 9/11 attacks were his inspiration for joining the military, which he did after graduating high school in 2002. Thirteen years later he found himself in a situation with some of the same hallmarks as the attacks of 2001 — hostages, suicide bombers, and a burning building in danger of collapse. Specifically, U.S. intelligence discovered that jihadis were digging graves outside a compound in Iraq at which prisoners were being held, an ominous sign of a looming massacre. Delta Force moved in to try to rescue the Iraqis, with Payne’s team finding quick success at the first building they approached. They met light resistance and cut the bolts on the cell doors to free dozens.
The second building was harder. It was already burning by the time Payne turned his attention to it, and U.S. troops on the roof were under fire. He and team members climbed a ladder to join them and found themselves being fired on not just from the side but from *below*, though holes in the roof. He and his colleagues returned fire and tossed grenades through the holes. Then they heard a boom and the building shook; suicide bombers inside had detonated themselves. Prisoners were still trapped in a cell down below with the building on fire and some jihadis still on the scene shooting at the Americans.