As winter yields to spring and the Earth renews itself and you and I walk peacefully through the lengthening days doing our work, raising our new children (there seem to be a lot of those lately!), toasting our friends others remain toiling in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq. They are American and British (and Australian and Polish) men and women, and they are working and sweating and fighting and dying on my behalf, and on yours and on behalf of millions of people they'd never before met, but who now have a chance of freedom and self-determination and prosperity and peace, after decades of knowing only tyranny and war. And they fight over there so that we won't have to face violence here. And they sacrifice for the success of a great and difficult and noble enterprise. And, I expect, most of all, they fight for one another pledged to one another's well-being, and that each of them might come home safely to their friends and families.
Royal Marine Matt Croucher was on a four-man night-time patrol outside the town of Sangin, on the way to search a bomb-making factory, in the notoriously dangerous Helmand province. One of the team stepped on a trip-wire booby trap, releasing a live grenade into the midst of the group. Lance Corporal Croucher shouted, "Grenade!" at which, the patrol commander threw himself to the ground, and another man managed to get behind a wall. But one man froze completely and was still standing when the grenade detonated.
However, by that time, Croucher was covering the grenade with his own body. In an extremely savvy and blessed turn, though, he thought to fall onto it with his back and thus his heavy daysack took most of the explosion. The pack sailed thirty feet and sent a flaming radio battery flying through the air. And the back plate in his body armour saved his life. He had shrapnel in both the armour plate and in his helmet, and was suffering from a bleeding nose and shock, but was basically okay. "All I could hear was a loud ringing and the faint sound of people shouting 'are you ok? Are you ok?' . . . It took 30 seconds before I realised I was definitely not dead," said Croucher.
Of course, there's no way he could know that the explosion would be survivable. And, without his heroism and sacrifice, at least one of his comrades would pretty definitely be dead. Lance Corporal Croucher has been put forth for the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest citation for valour.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor an elite Navy SEAL will definitely be receiving America's highest citation for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. However, his family will be accepting it on his behalf at a White House ceremony the day after tomorrow.
Monsoor was part of a sniper security team in Ramadi with three other SEALs and eight Iraqi soldiers. They were under heavy small arms and RPG fire when Monsoor and two other SEALS took up a position on a rooftop. Shortly after, an unseen enemy threw another grenade, this one striking Monsoor directly in the chest before falling in front of him. Monsoor had an exit and could have escaped the blast. But, as he immediately realised, his two teammates could not. He had a clear choice between saving his own life, or saving his comrades' lives. Without hesitation, he threw himself on the grenade. "He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it," said a 28-year-old lieutenant, who suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs that day. "He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives, and we owe him."
Monsoor was twenty-five when he died. He had already received the Silver Star, the third-highest award for combat valor, for his actions pulling a wounded SEAL to safety during a May 2006, firefight in Ramadi. The SEAL qualification and training course (BUD/S) has a drop-out rate of about 80%, and is one of the most gruelling and challenging experiences a person can undertake. Michael Monsoor passed it on his second attempt. (*)