Saturday, March 22, 2008

Selfless act merits 1st SEAL MoH of Iraq war

SAN DIEGO — Holed up on the rooftop of a Ramadi house, Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor and three fellow SEAL snipers were pulling overwatch duty for a ground security element Sept. 29, 2006, when an enemy grenade landed nearby.

Monsoor, a 25-year-old member of SEAL Team 3 from Garden Grove, Calif., instantly smothered the grenade with his body. The blast killed him, but his actions, officials said at the time, saved the men on the rooftop.

Now, Monsoor is set to become the first SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor for valor in the Iraq war. He will be only the fifth SEAL to be honored with the nation’s highest award for combat heroism.

A Defense Department official confirmed the pending award, which will be presented to his family.

“We understand the decision has been made to give that award,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Navy Times on March 17. “But that would be an announcement made by the White House.”

However, it wasn’t clear when the medal would be presented by President Bush, as is the tradition. As of March 20, no official announcement had been made by the White House.

A Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon referred queries to the White House, which has not commented on the award.

Blogger and author Michael Fumento, who has written about Monsoor and combat operations in Ramadi, reported on his Web site March 15 that Monsoor’s family would receive the posthumous Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony April 8. Two military officials with knowledge of the award dismissed that date, saying it was pending the official announcement.

Monsoor, a platoon machine gunner who graduated with Class 250 at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., already had received the Silver Star, the third-highest award for combat valor, for pulling a wounded SEAL to safety during a May 9, 2006, firefight in Ramadi.

According to a 2006 Associated Press report on the Sept. 29 incident, Monsoor didn’t hesitate to act when the grenade hit him in the chest and bounced to the floor.

“He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it,” a lieutenant who sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs that day told the AP.

“He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs’ lives, and we owe him.”

The AP reported that two SEALs near Monsoor were injured by shrapnel, and another who was 10 to 15 feet away from the blast was unhurt.

A petty officer who went through SEAL training with Monsoor said “Mikey” was a “fun-loving guy.”

“Always got something funny to say, always got a little mischievous look on his face,” the SEAL told the AP.

This will mark the second Medal of Honor for a member of the Navy — and the fourth overall — since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. The other two went to a soldier and a Marine. All have been posthumous. Other Medal of Honor nominations reportedly are pending.

The first Navy Medal of Honor for the two wars was given last year to the family of the late Lt. Michael Murphy, a SEAL from Long Island, N.Y., during an Oct. 22, 2007, White House ceremony. Murphy was killed June 28, 2005, along with two other teammates, in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains when their four-man team battled a larger force of Taliban fighters. Among other things, Murphy braved enemy gunfire to radio for air support.

The other two Medals of Honor have been awarded for combat heroics in Iraq.

The first went to Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who died during an April 4, 2003, firefight with insurgent fighters near Baghdad International Airport. Smith was noted for his bravery and quick actions to organize a hasty defense and counterattack during which he fired anti-tank weapons, tossed hand grenades and mounted an armored personnel carrier to fire its .50-caliber machine gun before he was felled by enemy fire. Officials credited him with killing as many as 50 enemy combatants and saving several soldiers.

Monsoor is one of at least three service members whose similar actions in Iraq have prompted nominations and calls from fellow service members, veterans and bloggers for them to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

His actions closely parallel those of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham, a machine-gunner from Scio, N.Y., who received the medal posthumously.

Dunham, 22, used his Kevlar helmet to muffle a grenade dropped by an insurgent fighting with him and his fire team near Husaybah on April 14, 2004. He died a week later at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Md., and his family received the medal during a Jan. 11, 2007, ceremony at the White House.

A similar grenade incident that took the life of a Marine in Iraq also has led to his nomination — reportedly still pending final approval — for the Medal of Honor.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a native of Mexico and infantryman from San Diego assigned to a Hawaii-based battalion, was deep in the fight as he and his men battled through the then-insurgent-held city of Fallujah in 2004.

Inside one house, Peralta was struck in the face by enemy rifle fire as his squad entered a room. Several Marines nearby have said Peralta grabbed an enemy grenade that had been tossed at them and held it to his chest. The blast killed the popular sergeant, but saved the men.

“He saved half my fire team,” Cpl. Brannon Dyer, of Blairsville, Ga., told Military Times after the incident.

Peralta, like Monsoor, was 25.



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