In August 2012 – on what he now calls the “worst day of my life” – Army Capt. Florent Groberg was leading a security detail of American and Afghan soldiers as they escorted a brigade commander to a meeting with an Afghan leader in the Kunar Province in Afghanistan.
By the end of the day he had wrestled a suicide bomber to the ground, an act for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor Thursday. He is the tenth living recipient of the nation’s highest military award who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Groberg spotted the attacker walking backward away from the group he was guarding and sprinted forward to tackle him along with another soldier in the security detail, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney. When he noticed the bomb under his clothing, he and Mahoney pushed the man further away from the group and to the ground, where the bomb exploded.
“Flo says that day was the worst day of his life,” Mr. Obama said at the ceremony Thursday. “That is the stark reality behind these Medal of Honor ceremonies. For all the valor we celebrate, all the courage that inspires us, these actions demanded amid some of the most dreadful moments of war. That’s precisely why we honor heroes like Flo, because on his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best.”
Groberg was thrown 15 feet in the air and knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he recounted to CBS News Pentagon Correspondent David Martin in an interview, “it looked like my muscles were melting in front of me” in his leg.
It would take 33 surgeries to save his leg.
Four people in the group were killed in the attack that day: Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray and Ragaei Abdelfattah, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“I would give anything to have all these guys back, anything,” he told Martin before the ceremony. “This medal that I will be receiving — I’d turn it right back in, right now, say, ‘No, thank you. Bring my guys back right here.’ But it’s combat. It’s Afghanistan. We understand, when we raise our right hand…we are volunteering to defend our nation. And we will go where they send us.”
Groberg said the experience of receiving the medal is “overwhelming, confusing, not exciting.” But he appreciates that it gives him the opportunity to talk about his four colleagues that lost their lives that day. During the ceremony, the president asked their families to stand and accept thanks from the audience.
“I’m just a lucky man to have had the opportunity to stand next to these men. And they’re the true heroes in this,” Groberg said. “I am just a courier. ‘Cause that medal doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to them, to the true heroes. It belongs to their families.”
Mr. Obama first met Groberg three years ago when he was visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“We talked. It turns out he liked Chicago bears, so I liked him right away,” the president said.