WASHINGTON — An Army captain who survived attacks by two suicide bombers moments apart but was badly wounded as he saved his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan received the Medal of Honor on Thursday. President Barack Obama awarded (Ret.) Army Capt. Florent Groberg the honor for what the White House called “his selfless service” during a deadly attack in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, in August 2012.
“He deployed to Afghanistan twice. First as a platoon leader, and a couple of years later when he was hand-picked to head up a security detail,” Obama said Thursday in a White House ceremony.
Obama, who had first met Groberg three years ago during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, praised his work ethic and determination as a college athlete.
“Training. Guts. Teamwork. What made Flo a great runner also made him a great soldier,” Obama said during the White House ceremony.
Groberg and five other soldiers were providing a security detail for senior U.S. military leaders as they were heading down a street toward the provincial governor’s compound when an ambush started to unfold.
“August 8, 2012 was the worst day of my life,” he told CNN. “Things just felt different that day. I switched everything in regards to the way we position ourselves. I had a weird feeling inside. Spidey senses are ticking and you’re kind of like, ‘Alright, I don’t like this.’ ”
Groberg, 32, said he saw an Afghan male in dark clothing come out of a building walking backwards towards his group.
“As soon as he started moving towards our patrol, I left my position to go meet him because he’s a threat. And I need him away,” he said.
“So I hit him with my rifle and that’s when I felt I hit a vest under his clothing. So at this point all I could do was just get him away as far as we could,” Groberg said. “So I grabbed him by his vest and tried to pushed him down and throw him.”
Groberg said his platoon sergeant pushed the man to the ground.
“And then he detonated at my feet,” he said. “And then after that I was thrown 15 to 20 feet, unconscious … you come back, and I wasn’t hearing anything. I had a blown ear drum took me a couple seconds to come back to reality.”
And then a second suicide bomber appeared and blew himself up, killing four of Groberg’s fellow soldiers.
“I couldn’t remember what happened. I thought I had stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device). My fibia was sticking out of my left leg, my skin was melting, and there was blood everywhere,” Groberg, who was on his second tour in Afghanistan, told the Army News Service. “I checked myself for internal injuries and started to drag myself out of what was probably a kill zone for small-arms fire.”
He attempted to continue leading his troops but needed medical attention and was put into an armored truck.
“That’s when all the pain came in. It felt like a blow torch was burning through my leg,” he told the Army News Service.
Obama said Groberg is receiving the Medal of Honor because his efforts “prevented an even greater catastrophe.”
“You see by pushing the bomber away from the formation, the explosion occurred farther from our forces and on the ground instead of the open air,” Obama said. “Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed.”
Groberg, who grew up in Maryland, spent nearly three years recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center before retiring in July. He required 33 surgeries to keep his badly injured leg.
He was born in France and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001. Groberg ran track at the University of Maryland, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice before joining the military.
Groberg is the 10th living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military honor and is given for “meritorious conduct (that) must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.”