“Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13, KJV
Acts of heroism and valor are seen more frequently in the soldier, sailor, and Marine, than anywhere else in the human world. For many – no, for most – the report of gunfire is excellent motivation to run in the opposite direction. But for a soldier, it is the sound of impending battle and the taste of chaos, and they run towards it. From John Paul Jones- undoubtedly America’s greatest Revolutionary naval commander - to the men of The Alamo in 1836, to modern-day warriors too many to list, we as a nation have been blessed with a rich and ongoing history of self-sacrificing protectors.
And when the word “bravery” is mentioned, it’s easy to call up an image of a battle-hardened soldier charging into the fray, defeating attackers and saving the day, exhausted and bloodied, alive by some whim of fate or chance. And that is certainly one aspect of bravery, and, frankly, the preferred outcome. Better to have our heroes alive and with us than lost to another realm. There is, however, another kind of strength and power, and it is found in the hearts of those who would sacrifice themselves for their fellow soldiers.
"I have not yet begun to fight." U.S. Navy Captain John Paul Jones
On April 5, 1981, a baby boy was born to George, a Marine Corps veteran, and his wife, Sally. He was the third of four children, having an older brother, James, an older sister, Sarah, and, later, a younger brother, Joseph. Growing up in Garden Grove, California, it was no surprise he loved body boarding and spear fishing, but as he passed through his teen years his calm-yet-focused demeanor only grew. His friends described him as unerringly loyal, a trait which would prove steadfast and dauntless. Perhaps he was destined from birth to become a Navy SEAL.
He enlisted in the Navy in March of 2001, and after graduating from Basic Training and attending Quartermaster “A” School, he was transferred to the Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy. But it wasn’t long before he moved on to his goal: BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training, back in his home state of California. It was his second attempt at BUD/S that was successful, thanks to a broken heel causing him to be rolled back to Class 250. When he graduated with Class 250 on September 2, 2004, the Navy noted he was one of their top performers.
Following his graduation from BUD/S came advanced SEAL training, including parachute training, at Fort Benning in Georgia. There was also cold-weather combat training in Kodiak, Alaska, and another six months of SEAL qualification training back in Coronado, California. Finally, in March of 2005, he was a SEAL, and eager to face combat.
Within a month, he went from Quartermaster to Master-at-Arms and was given an assignment to SEAL Team Three, Delta Platoon. The basic definition of the naval rating Master-at-Arms is a responsibility for law enforcement and force protection, and the newly minted SEAL was absolutely a protector as well as a force to be reckoned with. It would be one year before his first deployment into combat, but it did come in April 2006. His platoon was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and assigned to Task Unit Bravo in Ramadi.
Delta Platoon was tasked with training Iraqi soldiers, and one of the young SEAL’s jobs included combat patrols. As the heavy weapons machine gunner, he followed behind the point man, using his Mk 48 machine gun to provide protection from frontal assaults. He was also a communicator and carried more than 100 pounds of vital comms equipment in a rucksack on fifteen ops in addition to his machine gun and ammo load. Despite temperatures climbing to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, he never once complained.
It was on May 9, 2006, that his loyalty and courage became well-known. During missions, his platoon came under attack more than seventy-five percent of the time. Their section of Ramadi was a hotbed of insurgent activity and violence known as the Ma’laab district, and the SEALs were no strangers to enemy assault. On this particular day, a fellow SEAL was shot in the leg and lying exposed to the ongoing gunfire in the street. With utter disregard for his own life, he ran out into the direct line of heavy enemy fire, fighting his way to his downed brother. Upon reaching the fallen SEAL, he dragged the man to safety, providing suppressive fire simultaneously. He maintained fire while the wounded man was given tactical casualty treatment, helped load the other man into a vehicle for evacuation, and returned to combat. The Navy cited his “bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty” when they awarded him with a Silver Star for his actions.
A Bronze Star followed as recognition for his participation in thirty-five firefights, during eleven of which he exposed himself to enemy fire in order to protect his teammates. In the course of those firefights, he fired tens of thousands of 7.62 rounds, quickly sharpening his skills through potentially deadly experience. His actions for his platoon were swift, decisive, and undeniably brave, but his moment of true heroism was yet to come.
“Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” Heraclitus
Part of Operation Kentucky Jumper took place in southern Ramadi on September 29, 2006. The op was both a Coalition battle clearance and an isolation op, and the now-combat-hardened SEAL was serving as a gunner. He and his teammates, as well as a few Iraqi Army soldiers, took an overwatch position on a rooftop. His focus that day was to be protecting the snipers, but, in the end, he saved them all.
Four insurgents were observed that morning obviously readying for attack, and his team successfully engaged them. One insurgent was wounded, and another was killed, and the reaction of the locals was to use rocks to blockade the area and warn other insurgents of the SEAL Team’s presence. Even better, a mosque broadcasted a call for more insurgents to storm the area to attack the Coalition forces. In Ramadi, the unrelenting susurrus of gunfire was a way of life, and American forces were in constant danger. This day held the same threat of death as others.
Enemy reinforcements arrived by afternoon, and the SEALs on the rooftop were attacked by a passing vehicle. No sooner had they fought off the attack than another insurgent appeared, firing a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at the structure. All of the men on the rooftop were aware of the constant threat of danger and knew the attacks would continue, and yet they stayed in place, determined to continue their mission guarding the Coalition’s west flank. In response to the attacks of the day thus far, the young SEAL was positioned with his Mk 48 where he was most likely to be needed. That place was by a doorway that was the only exit for the sniper he was there to protect. Settling into his new position, he watched, and he waited. He did not need to wait for long.
The moments that followed are fresh to this day in the minds of his fellow Teammates. An insurgent lobbed a fragmentation grenade onto the rooftop, where it bounced off his chest. Yelling a warning of “Grenade!”, he leaped to his feet. In less than a single breath’s time, it was clear there was no time to evacuate the rooftop, and so he continued in his momentum. From the leap upright, he continued downward, using his body to cover the grenade just as it detonated. With his Teammates in mind, he willingly sacrificed his life, sustaining mortal injuries in the blast. Although he was evacuated with the utmost speed, he was dead thirty minutes later.
The two SEALs nearest him suffered shrapnel wounds, one to both legs, but they and the other men on the rooftop all survived. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a SEAL present that day said, “He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down towards it. He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs’ lives, and we owe him.”
His name was Michael Monsoor, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President George W. Bush on March 31, 2008. In the tradition of SEALs, at Monsoor’s funeral, his fellow SEALs pressed their tridents into his coffin. The Special Warfare insignia known as the SEAL trident depicts an eagle clutching an anchor, trident, and flintlock pistol, and it is a priceless symbol of the SEAL’s brotherhood. It took more than half an hour for the SEALs to all show their respect with the presentation of their tridents, an event of which then-President Bush later said, “…when it was all over, the simple wooden coffin had become a gold-plated memorial to a hero who will never be forgotten.”
Petty Officer Second Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor is remembered by his fellow SEALs as “a fun-loving guy” with a mischievous smile, but he is most remembered for his uncommon valor. The Archangel Michael is known in religious circles as the greatest angelic warrior of all, and is credited with personally defeating Lucifer in the battle for heaven. On September 29, the same day Michael Monsoor gave his life to save the lives of his Teammates, the traditional feast of Saint Michael the Archangel takes place each year. It is fitting that the memory of not one but two mighty warriors falls on that same day, and more fitting still that both Michaels are truly protectors against the darkness of night.
“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Nathan Hale
Author’s note: If the story of PO2 (SEAL) Michael Monsoor seems familiar, it’s because his story was part of the inspiration for 2012’s Act of Valor. There is truly no greater act of love than to give your life for that of another, and the bond of brotherhood in the military runs deep. And try as one might, it is simply impossible to grasp the full importance and weight of that bond unless you yourself are a part of it. Thank a veteran for their service today, and remember the fallen.
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Remember our fallen:
PO2 (SEAL) Michael Monsoor, 25
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[Michael A. Monsoor]
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