Defense officials tell NBC News the American commando killed in a rescue mission in Iraq on Thursday is a 39-year old Delta Force commando, Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Roland, Oklahoma.
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.
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.
Wheeler is the first to die in American combat operations against ISIS.
Wheeler, who was roughly a month shy of his 40th birthday, was born in Roland, Oklahoma. He graduated in 1994 from Muldrow High School in Muldrow, Oklahoma and entered the Army a year later as an infantryman training initially at Fort Benning, Ga., according to a statement from the military.
He was first assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington
In 1997, he transitioned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Lewis, Washington. Over the next seven years, he worked his way up the ranks from infantryman, rifle team leader, squad leader, weapons squad leader, and anti-tank section leader.
He deployed three times to Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2004, Wheeler was assigned to U.S. Army Special Operations Command and deployed 11 times in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
News of Wheeler’s death sparked support on social media.