WASHINGTON — A University of Maryland alumnus and Bethesda resident was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama Thursday for his heroic actions while serving in Afghanistan in 2012.
Capt. Florent Groberg was on a combat mission in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province when he saw a suspicious man walking backwards toward his fellow soldiers.
Groberg grabbed the man, spotting a bomb on his chest, and pushed him backwards to the ground. The explosive detonated, killing four Americans.
The explosion knocked Groberg unconscious. When he woke up moments later, his leg was broken and badly bleeding. With the help of a comrade, he dragged his body from the road to avoid falling victim to a second attack.
Groberg’s decisive action caused two explosives to detonate before they were in place, where they could have caused even greater destruction, Obama said at Groberg’s Medal of Honor ceremony in the White House’s East Room.
“Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere,” Obama told the ceremony audience. “Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious. And moments later, he woke up in the middle of the road in shock. His eardrum was blown out. His leg was broken and bleeding badly. Still, he realized that if the enemy launched a secondary attack, he’d be a sitting duck. When a comrade found him in the smoke, Flo had his pistol out, dragging his wounded body from the road.”
“Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed?” Obama said. “Those are the lives (Groberg) helped to save.”
The surviving soldiers from the mission attended Groberg’s ceremony, as well as the families of the four who died. Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Groberg said his fallen comrades are the ones who deserve the award.
“This medal belongs to the true heroes – Command Sergeant (Kevin) Griffin, Major (Walter) Gray, Major (Thomas) Kennedy, (USAID officer) Ragaei Abdelfattah – who made the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t come home,” Groberg said. “It also belongs to their families, true heroes who live with that day every day missing one of the members of their families.”
Groberg, 32, was born in France and became a U.S. citizen in 2001 while attending Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. He graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.
While in college, Groberg competed on track and cross country teams, experiences which Obama said prepared him for his military career.
“Training. Guts. Teamwork. What made (Groberg) a great runner also made him a great soldier,” Obama said.
The suicide bombing attack came on Groberg’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He first deployed from November 2009 to June 2010. His second deployment began in February 2012 and he was promoted to captain that July, just a month before he would risk his life for the soldiers in his company.
Groberg recovered at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, minutes from where he attended high school. He was medically retired from service in July and now has a civilian job with the Department of Defense.
Groberg is the tenth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest distinction, for actions in Afghanistan. He has received numerous other military decorations, including the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star.