This Day in History: Michael Monsoor's Medal of Honor
On this day in 1981, a hero is born. Michael Monsoor would go on to serve as a Navy SEAL during the War on Terrorism. He would receive a Medal of Honor for his bravery in Ramadi, Iraq.
The young Californian was known as a bit of a jokester. He was a tall, quiet young man—and one of the steady rocks in SEAL Team 3, Delta Platoon as it served in Iraq.
“As a SEAL, one of the greatest accolades you can have is being known as reliable,” retired Lt. Cmdr. Michael Sarraille says of his friend. “Reputation in the SEAL teams is everything. . . . Especially if you’re a quiet guy who just performs, your reputation skyrockets, and Mikey was that guy. He was dependable, especially in a firefight in the streets of Ramadi.”
The team had been working to retake Ramadi from al-Qaida insurgents. This left the SEALs engaged in daily, violent urban combat, working alongside Marines and soldiers. Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor was an automatic weapons gunner, and he was right in the thick of it.
Monsoor’s heroism came on September 29, 2006. The SEAL team was mere days away from going home, but one last mission had to be completed first. Monsoor volunteered to go.
He and three other SEALs were to establish an overwatch position on a rooftop, along with several Iraqi scouts. Sarraille was leading the group, and he positioned Monsoor and his heavy machine gun in a hidden spot close to the rooftop’s only exit. They were several hours into the mission when tragedy struck.
No one ever quite knew how it happened, but an insurgent managed to get a grenade over the wall and onto the rooftop. It hit Monsoor in the chest, then hit the floor.
“And so he made a very conscious and deliberate, selfless decision,” Sarraille described. “Looked in my direction, yelled ‘grenade!’ and jumped down on it.”
Monsoor’s decision saved Sarraille and another SEAL, Doug Wallace. A third SEAL watched it happen. “Being behind Mikey,” Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin Oleson said, “what I remember hearing was, ‘Grenade!’ and the next thing I knew was the explosion. I got knocked out for a few seconds, and when I came to, I had three of my very close friends [wounded].”
All of the SEALs were injured, but the two men closest to Monsoor had taken the worst hit. The Iraqi scouts took one look and fled. Meanwhile, Oleson rushed to Monsoor’s aid. Sarraille pulled himself together and dragged himself to one of the Iraqi radios. Another SEAL team soon arrived and secured the perimeter so the wounded men could be evacuated.
It was too late for Monsoor.
“Of the three of us, Mikey probably had the greatest chance of survival,” Sarraille later said. “All he had to do was turn the other direction, jump and he would have lived. . . . But due to Mikey’s character and his quick train of thought, he knew that if he chose self-preservation, which is sometimes needed on the battlefield, Doug and I would most likely perish, and he was right.”
Oleson credits Monsoor with saving his life, too. “I now have a family. I have three kids, and I owe that all to Mikey,” he said.
The three men try to live in a way that would make Monsoor proud.
“We can’t bring Mikey back,” Oleson says, “but we can live in his memory, in his image, and try to be the best human beings we can be.”
Elizabeth M. Collins, I will defend: The Michael Monsoor story (Military News; Jan 28, 2019)
I Will Defend: Michael Monsoor’s story (Department of the Navy video)
John McCain & Mark Salter, Thirteen Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at War (2014)
Medal of Honor citation (Michael Monsoor; War on Terrorism)
Special Warfare Operator Second Class (SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor (U.S. Navy website)