In the aftermath of the deadly suicide bomb attack that killed four men, retired Capt. Florent A. "Flo" Groberg wrestled with what he described Friday as one of his biggest fears.
He was the leader of the personal security detachment on that fateful day in Afghanistan, and he feared how the families of the fallen would react to him.
"The biggest fear I always had when I came back from Afghanistan was that you would not accept me because I couldn't bring everyone home," Groberg said, fighting back tears.
But they did, and on Friday, the Gold Star families of Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, Maj. Thomas Kennedy and Air Force Maj. Walter Gray stood alongside Groberg's family and friends as he was inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. The ceremony at the Pentagon came one day after Groberg was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, by President Obama.
"On Aug. 8, 2012, our country lost four incredible Americans, four men who made the ultimate sacrifice, four individuals who changed lives around them for the better, four true heroes to whom this medal belongs," Groberg said, addressing the audience. "I carry them in my heart, I carry them in my soul every single day."
Their families – including the family of Ragaei Abdelfattah, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who were unable to attend Friday's ceremony – represent "true perseverance," Groberg said.
"You represent everything of what America is," he said. "You still came to support us, you still came to support me, [and] you still came to support each other. This medal is yours. I mean it with everything inside me."
Groberg is the nation's newest Medal of Honor recipient – the 10th living service member to be recognized for actions in Afghanistan.
He was honored for his actions on Aug. 8, 2012, in Afghanistan's Konar province.
President Barack Obama presents retired Capt. Florent A. "Flo" Groberg with the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, on Nov. 12. Groberg earned the medal by tackling a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while serving with the 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division on August 8, 2012.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
"Flo says that day was the worst day of his life," Obama said during Thursday’s White House ceremony. "And that is the stark reality behind these Medal of Honor ceremonies: t. That for all the valor we celebrate, and all the courage that inspires us, these actions were demanded amid some of the most dreadful moments of war."
But it's how Groberg reacted that's "precisely why we honor heroes" like him, Obama said.
"On his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best," he said. "That’s the nature of courage, — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training, how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for."
On Aug. 8, 2012, Groberg led the personal security detachment for the command team of 4h Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
That morning, Groberg and his team led a patrol of 28 American and Afghan personnel, including two brigade commanders, two battalion commanders, two command sergeants major, an Afghan army commander and two U.S. civilians, to a meeting with Fazlullah Wahidi, the provincial governor in Asadabad.
As the patrol wound its way to Wahidi's compound, out of the corner of his eye, Groberg saw a man dressed in dark clothing, walking backwards.
When the man spun around and turned towards the patrol, Groberg rushed the stranger and pushed him away from the others before quickly realizing the man had hidden a suicide bomb vest under his clothes.
Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, one of Groberg's team members, joined him, and "together, they pushed the bomber again and again," Obama said. "They pushed him so hard he fell to the ground onto his chest. And then the bomb detonated."
Mahoney would later receive the Silver Star, the nation's third highest award for valor, for his actions.
Groberg and Mahoney caused the bomber to detonate away from the group and into the ground, saving countless lives, Obama said. The explosion also caused a second unseen bomb to detonate before it was in place.
Groberg spent three years recovering from the blast, which mangled his leg, caused severe nerve damage, and tore out a chunk of his calf muscle. Groberg, who ensured more than 30 surgeries, also had a blown eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury. Now medically retired, Groberg works as a civilian in the Defense Department.
During Friday's Hall of Heroes ceremony, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter praised Groberg for his courage.
"Capt. Groberg’s courage stood in stark contrast to the cowardice of the suicide bomber," Carter said. "While the enemy was motivated by self-delusion, Capt. Groberg was driven by selfless service." …
"At the moment of greatest testing, he made the most courageous and selfless choice of all,." Carter said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley echoed Carter's remarks.
"Capt. Groberg never quit," he said. "When facing grave danger, he put the mission first, and he never, ever accepted defeat, and never once thought of himself."
When Groberg reacted that day to the suicide bomber, "it was not the American uniform that mattered ... that day to Capt. Groberg. It was the men and women he was with. It’s that unwavering commitment to each other that’s what makes the Army so strong."
Groberg, who spoke movingly of the commanders and noncommissioned officers who trained, mentored and coached him, said he is grateful to have had the opportunity to serve.
He also singled out his team, the men he was with on that day, for recognition.
"You talk about family, — I had wonderful parents and wonderful family," he said. "Bbut when you deploy and you’re in combat, these individuals become your brothers," Groberg said. "You will do anything for them."
"I'm so proud of you guys," he continued. "It was an honor to have served with you. You're brothers for life."