Royal Marine survives smothering grenade to save his buddies

Sunday Times:

A Royal Marine in southern Afghanistan threw himself onto an exploding grenade to save the lives of his patrol.

Miraculously, Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, a marine reservist from Birmingham, survived the blast with little injury when his rucksack and body armour took the force of the blast. He is expected to receive one of the highest awards for gallantry.

The story of his courage emerged last week in interviews with marines occupying a forward operating base near Sangin in Helmand province. They are preparing to leave after serving for six months at the centre of some of the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan. The outpost, Forward Operating Base Inkerman, is better known to troops as "FOB Incoming".

Croucher's action occurred just before dawn on February 9, as the reconnaissance troop from 40 Commando, operating to the south of Sangin, was searching a compound it suspected was being used for making bombs to attack British and Afghan troops.

Walking in the darkness among a group of four men, Croucher stepped into a tripwire that pulled the pin from a boobytrap grenade. His patrol commander, Corporal Adam Lesley, remembered Croucher's shout of: "Grenade!"

As others dived for cover, Croucher, 24, did something nobody expected. He lay down on the grenade to smother the blast. Lesley got on the ground, another man got behind a wall, but the last member of the patrol was still standing in the open when the grenade went off.

"My reaction was, 'My God this can't be real'," said Lesley. "Croucher had simply lain back and used his day sack to blunt the force of the explosion. You would expect nine out of 10 people to die in that situation."

Then they waited. "It felt like a lifetime," said Lesley. When the grenade went off it blew Croucher's rucksack more than 30ft and sent a burning radio battery fizzing into the air. As the noise died down, one of the patrol, Marine Scott Easter, was standing "just completely frozen" and untouched. Croucher was in deep shock but, apart from a bloody nose, had few injuries. "He had shrapnel in his helmet, in the plate of his body armour, but he was basically okay," said Lesley. "His day sack had taken the blast."

Croucher told the News of the World: "All I could hear was a loud ringing and the faint sound of people shouting 'are you ok? Are you ok?'

"Then I felt one of the lads giving me a top to toe check. My head was ringing. Blood was streaming from my nose. It took 30 seconds before I realised I was definitely not dead," he added.

...

There is much more on the heroics of the UK troops. When his commander found out Croucher was going to be OK, he decided to exploit the grenade booby trap by setting up an ambush for the Taliban who would be coming to check their "kill." His fellow troops put Croucher in for a Victoria Cross the Brits highest honor for combat.

In another fire fight one of the troops decided to draw the fire of the Taliban so his fellow troops could spot them and kill them. There are more such heroics in this long story.

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