CORONADO — A Navy SEAL sacrificed his life to save his comrades by throwing himself on top of a grenade Iraqi insurgents tossed into their sniper hideout, fellow members of the elite force said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor had been near the only door to the rooftop structure Sept. 29 when the grenade hit him in the chest and bounced to the floor, said four SEALs who spoke to The Associated Press this week on condition of anonymity because their work requires their identities to remain secret.
"He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it," said a 28-year-old lieutenant who sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs that day. "He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs' lives, and we owe him."
Monsoor, a 25-year-old gunner, was killed in the explosion in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. He was only the second SEAL to die in Iraq since the war began.
Two SEALs next to Monsoor were injured; another who was 10 to 15 feet from the blast was unhurt. The four had been working with Iraqi soldiers providing sniper security while U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted missions in the area.
In an interview at the SEALs' West Coast headquarters in Coronado, four members of the special force remembered "Mikey" as a loyal friend and a quiet, dedicated professional.
"He was just a fun-loving guy," said a 26-year-old petty officer 2nd class who went through the grueling 29-week SEAL training with Monsoor. "Always got something funny to say, always got a little mischievous look on his face."
Other SEALS described the Garden Grove, Calif., native as a modest and humble man who drew strength from his family and his faith. His father and brother are former Marines, said a 31-year-old petty officer 2nd class.
Prior to his death, Monsoor had already demonstrated courage under fire. He has been posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions May 9 in Ramadi, when he and another SEAL pulled a team member shot in the leg to safety while bullets pinged off the ground around them.
Monsoor's funeral was held Thursday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. He has also been submitted for an award for his actions the day he died.
The first Navy SEAL to die in Iraq was Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc A. Lee, 28, who was killed Aug. 2 in a firefight while on patrol against insurgents in Ramadi. Navy spokesman Lt. Taylor Clark said the low number of deaths among SEALs in Iraq is a testament to their training.
Sixteen SEALs have been killed in Afghanistan. Eleven of them died in June 2005 when a helicopter was shot down near the Pakistan border while ferrying reinforcements for troops pursuing al-Qaida militants.
There are about 2,300 of the elite fighters, based in Coronado and Little Creek, Va.
The Navy is trying to boost that number by 500 — a challenge considering more than 75 percent of candidates drop out of training, notorious for "Hell Week," a five-day stint of continual drills by the ocean broken by only four hours sleep total. Monsoor made it through training on his second attempt.