Greater love hath no man…
Michael Monsoor, of Garden Grove, California, felt the same call to serve his country that had previously led his father and brother into the Marine Corps. However, he was pulled in a different direction than his family members had been: he was drawn to the United States Navy, not out of a desire to serve in the fleet, but out of a burning ambition to serve as a Navy SEAL, one of America's Special Operations elites.
Monsoor succeeded at BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training, and was assigned to SEAL Team 3, based at Coronado, CA. It was in Iraq, though, as he fought alongside his teammates, that he repeatedly demonstrated the bravery and heroism which are characteristic of America's fighting men and women, and it was in that same country, on September 29, 2006, that the 25-year-old gave his life to protect them.
A recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for his earlier actions in the War on Terror, Monsoor was recently awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest medal conferred upon members of the United States military, for his valor and selflessness while engaged in a firefight in Ramadi in May, when, according to the report, "he and another SEAL pulled a team member shot in the leg to safety while bullets pinged off the ground around them."
Just three months ago, Monsoor's willingness to risk his life for his teammates was demonstrated to the utmost. According to the Navy's official narrative of events:
On 29 September, Monsoor was part of a sniper overwatch security position in eastern Ramadi, Iraq, with three other SEALs and eight Iraqi soldiers. They were providing overwatch security while joint and combined forces were conducting missions in the area. Ramadi had been a violent and intense area for a very strong and aggressive insurgency for some time. All morning long the overwatch position received harassment fire that had become a typical part of the day for the security team. Around midday, the exterior of the building was struck by a single rocket propelled grenade (RPG), but no injuries to any of the overwatch personnel were sustained. The overwatch couldn't tell where the RPG came from and didn't return fire.
A couple of hours later, an insurgency fighter closed on the overwatch position and threw a fragment grenade into the overwatch position which hit Monsoor in the chest before falling in front of him. Monsoor yelled "Grenade!" and dropped on top of the grenade prior to it exploding. Monsoor's body shielded the others from the brunt of the fragmentation blast and two other SEALs were only wounded by the remaining blast.
One of the key aspects of this incident was the way the overwatch position was structured. There was only one access point for entry or exit and Monsoor was the only one who could have saved himself from harm. Instead, knowing what the outcome could be, he fell on the grenade to save the others from harm. Monsoor and the two injured were evacuated to the combat outpost battalion aid station where Monsoor died approximately 30 minutes after the incident from injuries sustained by the grenade blast.
The final paragraph says it all regarding the depth and the magnitude of Monsoor's sacrifice. Due to the orientation of the room, and the location of its only exit, he was the only person who could have escaped in time to survive. Doing so, though, would have meant abandoning the others in the room to grievous injury or, more likely, to death. Knowing both courses of action, and the consequences of each, he had to make a split-second decision. As was so eloquently and succinctly put by the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen Scharnberg:
The men who were there that day say they could see the options flicker across Michael Monsoor's face: save himself or save the men he had long considered brothers.
He chose them.
The decision was made in less than an instant – and those whose lives would have ended that day but for Monsoor's action will carry a weighty gratitude for as long as they live.
In April of 2004, 24-year-old Marine Corporal Jason Dunham made a similar sacrifice, as he jumped on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades. His father described the impulse - and the decision - to give his life for his comrades thus:
When you are in a war situation, that guy beside you is your brother or sister. And I think that most of us would give up our lives for our family.
Over two years later, Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless, heroic sacrifice. Now, three months after he gave his life for his teammates, Monsoor has been nominated for a Medal of Honor of his own.
It is men like Michael Monsoor and Jason Dunham who provide us with an embodiment of John 15:13, which says, “Greater love hath no man than this - that he lay down his life for his friends.”
The mindset that allows – or compels – a man to put himself into harm's way for the purpose of saving another is difficult to describe; however, such selflessness – and such love for one's fellow man – is a defining characteristic of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, and the Marine who has faced combat, and who has experienced the reality of having his life entirely in the hands of the men next to him, while having each of those in his own hands.
According to Joseph Blake, a sociologist who has “researched the act of soldiers throwing themselves on grenades”:
A combat situation has not a whole lot to do with patriotism or the folks back home...They are fighting for their buddies. They don't want to let their buddies down.
Said Monsoor's mother, "We just knew that if Mike was put in a situation like he was, he wouldn't hesitate." And he didn’t. According to the AP:
One SEAL lieutenant, who asked not to be identified by name for security reasons, watched Monsoor shield him and others from exploding hot metal Sept. 29 when the grenade blew up their sniper position in Ramadi, in Anbar province.
"Mikey had the best chance of avoiding harm altogether," said the officer. "But he never took his eye off the grenade."
A mere two weeks from redeploying home from Iraq himself, Monsoor gave up his life so that the men around him would have a chance to return to their families.
This holiday season, as we enjoy ourselves, our loved ones, and our lives, we should pause for a moment to reflect upon the sacrifices of men like Mike Monsoor, who willingly gave up his life and his future – the ability to see his family again, to spend time with his loved ones, to ever have a family of his own – so that each man with him might have the chance to do so.
There truly can be no greater love, no more heroic act, than this. The men whose lives were saved by the direct intervention of Mike Monsoor, Jason Dunham, will carry the burden of gratitude with them to the grave, and beyond.
The sacrifices of these true warriors did not make them heroes. It simply demonstrated what heroic men they were all along.
As we remember the reason for this Christmas season, it is of the utmost importance that we reflect on this fact: the scope of these men's sacrifices is far greater than the relatively small number of people who were spared by their action. Each of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who has died in combat has done so to save each of us; the bullets they have taken, and the grenades they have thrown themselves upon, have been aimed, indirectly, at every one of us, and those who have felt their impact, and have given their lives in battle, have done so, much like Christ did, in our place, that we may live.
So, to Mike Monsoor, Jason Dunham, and so many others, we owe – at the very least – our eternal gratitude, and an undying commitment never – ever – to take for granted those things which we, due to their sacrifices, can continue to enjoy, but which they, due to those same sacrifices, will never again be able to do.