Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Roland, Oklahoma, a highly-decorated soldier and father of four, rushed into action when he heard sounds of gunfire coming from a prison in Iraq where dozens of ISIS-held hostage were being held on Thursday.
Those actions, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on Friday, weren’t part of the original rescue mission plan, but were critical to its success.
“I am immensely proud of this young man,” Carter said adding that his thoughts and prayers go out to Wheeler’s family.
Earlier Friday, Defense officials confirmed to NBC News Wheeler, 39, as the American Delta Force commando killed in a rescue mission in Iraq on Thursday.
Acting on a tip that dozens of ISIS-held hostages were about to be slaughtered, U.S. and Kurdish commandos stormed a prison in northeastern Iraq before dawn Thursday, rescuing the captives in a firefight that ended with Wheeler being shot to death, officials said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday that Wheeler “did what proud Americans do” when he ran toward the sound of gunfire.
The operation marked the first known instance of American service members battling ISIS fighters on the ground in Iraq under President Obama’s new mission to “train and advise” local forces against the terror group.
Carter said that the military expects “more raids of this kind” and that the rescue mission “represents a continuation of our advise and assist mission.”
This may mean some American soldiers “will be in harm’s way, no question about it,” Carter said.
Wheeler, who earned multiple Bronze Star Medals among others, is the first to die in American combat operations against ISIS. He is survived by his wife and four sons as well as his grandparents.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube