Retired Army Captain Florent Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor on Thursday, in recognition of valiant actions that left him maimed but saved many other lives. Specifically, he tackled a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
As the U.S. Army recounts, Captain Groberg was in command of a security detachment for Task Force Mountain Warrior on the morning of August 8, 2012, when his patrol came to a small bridge across a canal, halfway between Forward Operating Base Fiaz and the provincial governor’s compound in Asadabad, Afghanistan. One of the nearby civilians approached Groberg’s formation, only to be intercepted by the alert unit commander and pushed backward. When Groberg realized this individual was wearing a suicide vest, he and fellow detachment soldier Sergeant Andrew Mahoney tackled him.
“While on the ground, the bomber’s explosive vest detonated. The explosion caused a second suicide bomber, who remained hidden behind a small structure near the road, to detonate his vest prematurely. Most of the blast of the second bomber’s suicide vest went straight into a building, adjacent to the patrol,” says the Army report. “Groberg’s actions disrupted both bombers from detonating as planned, saving the majority of lives he was charged with protecting.”
Sadly, they were not able to save everyone, as there were still four fatalities from the attack. Remarkably, Sgt. Mahoney was not one of them. He suffered a severe soft-tissue wound to his left forearm and took shrapnel in his right shoulder, but he recovered, re-enlisted, and remained with the 4th Brigade Combat Team. He received the Silver Star for his actions on April 22, 2013, and was named United Services Organization Soldier of the Year in 2014. Mahoney described the explosion as “getting my bell rung a little bit.”
Groberg was much more seriously injured, sustaining “the loss of 45 to 50 percent of his left calf muscle with significant nerve damage, a blown eardrum, and a mild traumatic brain injury,” according to the Army web page. Sgt. Mahoney has said Groberg was blown across the street by the blast.
He recovered at Walter Reed through May 2015, enduring over 30 surgical procedures, and was medically retired from Company B Warriors, Warrior Transition Battalion, in July. He now works as a civilian employee of the Defense Department.
Here’s Groberg describing what he calls “the worst day of my life”:
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Groberg’s awards and decorations include “the Bronze Star Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars; the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the U.S. Army Parachutists Badge, the U.S. Army Ranger Tab, and the Meritorious Unit Commendation.”
“On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best,” President Obama said at the Medal of Honor ceremony. “We are free because of them.”
“He showed his guts, he showed his training, how he put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for,” the president added.
“Captain Groberg acted in a manner that saved the lives of many of his comrades. Tragically, he could not save them all,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said of Groberg at a Veterans Day ceremony this week, as reported by Fox News. “When he was informed last month that he would receive the Medal of Honor, he said, and I quote,`This medal belongs to them. It’s my mission to tell everyone thank you for recognizing me, but this does not belong to me. It belongs to them. That’s how I’m coping with it mentally.'”
“It’s the greatest honor you can ever receive. And I’m blessed, and just grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve my country,” Groberg said after the ceremony.
Groberg was born in Poissy, France, not far from Paris, in 1983 to a French-Algerian mother, and moved to the United States over 20 years ago with his mother and American adoptive father. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001, graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, and went on to graduate from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice in 2006. He joined the Army in July 2008, and deployed to Afghanistan for the first time in November 2009. His second deployment began in February 2012, six months before the suicide bomb attack in Asadabad.
“We defeated the enemy on that day,” the Army quotes Groberg saying of the battle. “We sent a message that no matter how bad you want to hurt us, we’re always going to keep standing up and bringing it back twice fold on you. But it was the worst day of my life, because even though we defeated the enemy, I lost four of my brothers.”