Project Hero: SSG William Thomas Payne, Silver Star Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, December 17, 2005
Our hero this week is Staff Sgt William Payne, a squad leader in the 1st Cavalry Division at the time of the action described below. SSG Payne is indicative of the caliber of small unit leaders we have leading our sons and daughters in the military. His dedication to and love for the members of his squad are evident through the entire telling of his story. As he notes finally: "I owe everything to my squad. If my squad wasn't there I couldn't have completed that mission. My squad was there for me - that's what it comes down to."
His squad was there because of the training he ensured they had, the high standards he set for them and his leadership. And because of his leadership and dedication, his squad triumphed in the face of adversity.
Payne, from Benford, Okla., and an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, is credited with rescuing a group of soldiers from a disabled Bradley fighting vehicle while under fire last September.
"Staff Sgt. Payne displayed gallantry and valor that was truly amazing," [Maj. Gen. Pete ]Chiarelli said. "He did it in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baghdad - Sheik Maroof."
The neighborhood has many areas that have been dubbed with nicknames like "Grenade Alley", and "Purple Heart Lane" by the soldiers who regularly patrol it. The infamous Haifa Street runs along the northern border.
"I've read a lot of citations since I've been here," Chiarelli added, "but I have read none that talks of any greater act of heroism than what Staff Sgt. Payne did that day."
During the late morning hours of Sept. 12, 2004, Payne's battalion was wrapping up an operation on Haifa Street. As Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the streets, soldiers on the ground set up defensive positions in order to pick up other soldiers that had been manning observation posts in high-rise buildings throughout the night.
Payne and his dismounted squad were in their position along the side of the street when the unthinkable happened - a car laden with explosives sped onto the street and detonated into the rear of a Bradley.
"I looked back," Payne explained, "it was like; there is no way that this was happening."
A split second later the blasts powerful concussion hit his squad knocking one soldier to the ground.
"When I heard the concussion I knew it was real and it was time to go," he said.
The force of the blast disabled the 33 ton Bradley bringing it to a halt. It's rear ramp was engulfed in flames and the upper cargo hatch was blown off.
Small arms fire began to rain onto the street, so Payne had Sgt. Richard Frisbie shift the squad into a new position so they could provide cover fire while he and Spc. Chase Ash went to help the soldiers in the Bradley.
"Luckily I had someone there to help out," Payne said. "I had a soldier to keep control of the squad and another to help me with the wounded."
Payne and Ash ran 50 meters to the burning vehicle while insurgents fired on them. At the Bradley, Payne climbed up on top and helped two of the crewman out of the turret. He then turned his attention to the infantrymen still inside the crew compartment. One by one he pulled them up through the damaged cargo hatch.
"I lowered them down the side of the Bradley to Spc. Ash so he could get them to safety," Payne said. "There was a lot of gunfire going on."
Within seconds of retrieving the wounded soldiers from the Bradley the vehicle's load of ammunition began to cook off from the heat and fire.
According to Payne the whole series of events lasted nearly five minutes.
"All the training just kicked in," Payne said about what happened. "It's hard to explain, I didn't really have time to think about it."
Once back in a safe position on the south side of the street Payne's squad teamed together again to further protect the rescued soldiers as the medic treated them.
"Some of the wounded were unable to get their equipment out of the Bradley," Payne explained. "We had one soldier that didn't have his helmet and another was missing his weapon."
Payne's men began giving them whatever piece of protective gear they could spare.
"They were giving up goggles and things like that," Payne added. "They were giving them anything they could to provide them better protection than what they had when they got out of the vehicle."
When it was safe enough, Payne and his soldiers put the wounded into another Bradley for evacuation to the combat support hospital in the International Zone.
"I owe everything to my squad," Payne said. "If my squad wasn't there I couldn't have completed that mission. My squad was there for me - that's what it comes down to."
Professionalism, dedication, mission and men. The NCOs of our military are the best in the world.
PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you'd like to see highlighted here (published on Saturday), please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.