On a day when America honored the victims of 9/11, one of the soldiers who came into service right after that horrible tragedy was awarded the United States’ highest honor in combat. Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne from the U.S. Army’s secret Delta Force became that elite unit’s first living recipient of the Medal of Honor. He received the Medal in a ceremony in the White House on Friday, September 11, by President Donald Trump.

Payne is also the first U.S. soldier to be awarded America’s highest award in the fight against ISIS. 

“I don’t consider myself a recipient,” Payne said on Thursday at the Pentagon. “I consider myself a guardian.”


Payne enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002 after high school. He went through Infantry, Airborne, and the Ranger Indoctrination Program (now Ranger Selection and Assessment) from 2002 to 2003. He served in the 1st Ranger Battalion until 2007 when he was selected for 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force.

During his career, he’s deployed 17 times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve. He has also deployed to the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.