Today is Veterans Day, which honors everyone who wore the uniform. There are millions of stories of course, but I chose to repeat this one because he is an Exceptional American who was born in France, and fought in Afghanistan.
On October 14, 2015, the White House announced Army Captain Florent Groberg will receive a Medal of Honor for wrestling to the ground a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on August 8, 2012.
Who wrestles suicide bombers?
Born in Poissy, France, on May 8, 1983, Florent Groberg's parents moved to the United States where he became a naturalized citizen on on February 27, 2001, in his senior year at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. He ran track in high school and at the University of Maryland, where he graduated in May 2006 with a degree in criminology and criminal justice.
He did not join the Army until 2008, but when he did he went Ranger all the way.
“I’m an American, my country was at war. I didn’t understand why other people had to go fight for me. I was put on this earth to run track and shoot guns and defend people,” Groberg told LetsRun.Com last year, well before anyone mentioned a Medal of Honor.
The Army assigned him to Fort Carson, Colorado. He did several overseas tours. In July 2012, the Army promoted him to captain, and assigned him to the personal security detachment for the commander for 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, in Afghanistan. This befit a young officer who had received 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.
While his unit escorted his commander, Colonel James Mingus, to a meeting in Asadabad with Afghanistan officials on August 8, 2012, Captain Groberg noticed a man standing to his side.
“I’m looking at him, dark man-jams, he doesn’t look right,” Groberg told Gannett News Service.
That's because the man was wearing a suicide vest. Reacting on instinct, and doing what he was Groberg shoved the man with his rifle and realized, the man was wearing a suicide vest. Along with Sergeant Andrew Mahoney, a native of Laingsburg, Michigan, Groberg threw the man to the ground. Mahoney was the radioman.
“The only thing I could think of was, ‘I have to get him away. I have to get him away from the boss. I have to get him away from everybody’,” Groberg said. “The next thing you know, he just lands on the ground chest first, and I’m looking at him, and he detonates. He detonated right in front of my feet.”
A second suicide bomber panicked and detonated. The blast killed four soldiers, and wounded several others including Groberg. He would never run again. The high school and college track star had just run two miles in 10:15 on a treadmill three days later in preparation for the coming Best Ranger tryouts. He had also lifter 275 pounds benching, 425 squatting, and 450 deadlifting the night before. He had never been in better shape -- until that day.
But he was in his third tour of Afghanistan.
“I call it playing Russian Roulette,” Groberg told LetsRun.com. “You play with the odds. Every time you come home, you’re good, but every time you take off again, the odds are higher that you’re going to get attacked. All it takes is one crazy to create havoc.”
Mahoney, his radioman, also was wounded, although not as badly.
"If I lost consciousness it was only for a brief moment because he exploded, things were fuzzy for just a second or two, and the next thing I knew I was standing almost in the same spot, just in a cloud of dust," Mahoney told the official Army web site last year. "I had some pretty bad flesh wounds on my arm, my shoulder and all up the back of my legs, but my body armor worked, I'll tell you that much. The first thing I did is I looked down at my arm and it was all jacked up. It was a mess; you could see the bone and everything."
Colonel Mingus rushed to the sergeant's aid and helped him tie a tourniquet on his arm. Mahoney recovered, stayed in the military, and became the USO's Soldier of the Year in 2014.
But for Captain Groberg, life would never be the same. The blast threw him across the street. Shrapnel tore up his arm and his left leg.
"That's when all the pain came in. It felt like a blow torch was burning through my leg," Groberg said. "August 8, 2012, was not a bad day; it was the worst day of my life."
He returned to his hometown, Bethesda -- to rehabilitate at Walter Reed. At last count, he suffered 33 surgeries. They were going to send him to a different medical facilty. Groberg told them, ‘Y’all can send me to San Antonio, but you’re going to have to deal with my mom. You think the Taliban are bad, wait until she finds out her son’s been flown to Texas.”
Four men died that day: Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin, Major Thomas Kennedy, Air Force Major Walter Gray, and Ragaei Abdelfattah, a volunteer with the U.S. Agency for International Development. An Afghanistan militant grinned as he viewed the carnage.
“I wanted to end him,” Groberg said. “I looked at him and thought, ‘This is everything that’s wrong with my enemy.’ I’ve never looked at an enemy that was dead and smiled. I’ll go out and fight the enemy but I’ll respect them as much as I can. But the fact that he could look at Gray, Kennedy, Griffin, Abdelfattah and be happy.”
But Groberg's comrades calmed him down. Two years later, he is grateful that they did that, and that he did not kill the man.
The Army awarded Sergeant Mahoney a Silver Star.
On September 21, 2015, the commander in chief, President Obama, called Captain Groberg to inform him of the Medal of Honor.
“It was an honor to speak to the president on that day,” Groberg said. “It is not every day that one of the most powerful and influential figures in the world calls your cellphone. I have tremendous respect for who the president is as a person, and I definitely will never forget the call.”
Nor will he ever forget August 8, 2012. He saved a lot of lives that day, by wrestling a suicide bomber to the ground.
I am publishing the best of these tales, in Kindle and on Amazon. Volume I covering American history from the 16th through the 20th century is here. And Volume II on The Capitalists is available here.
Suggestions are welcome. Email me at DonSurber@GMail.com.