Captain becomes 10th living Medal of Honor recipient of war of terror

Army Captain Florent Groberg received the Medal of Honor on Thursday for his 2012 heroics in Afghanistan.

Retired Capt. Florent A. Groberg on Thursday became the nation's newest Medal of Honor recipient — and the 10th living service member to be recognized with America's highest valor award for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Groberg received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Aug. 8, 2012, in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama presented the award to Groberg during a ceremony at the White House.

"Flo says that day was the worst day of his life," Obama said. "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 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

President Obama presents retired US Army Capt. Florent
President Obama presents retired US Army Capt. Florent "Flo" Groberg with the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 12, 2015. Groberg earned the medal by tackling a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while serving with the 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division on August 8, 2012.

President Barack Obama thanks Capt. Florent A. "Flo" Groberg for his service and valor.

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

That morning, the soldiers left their headquarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, for a meeting with Fazlullah Wahidi, the provincial governor in Asadabad. There were 28 American and Afghan personnel in all, including two brigade commanders, two battalion commanders, two command sergeants major, an Afghan army commander and two U.S. civilians.

As the patrol wound its way to Wahidi's compound, out of the corner of his eye, Groberg saw him first, a man dressed in dark clothing, walking backwards, Obama said.

When the man spun around and turned towards the patrol, "Flo sprinted toward him" and pushed him away from the others, Obama said. Groberg quickly realized the man had hidden a suicide-bomb vest under his clothes, the president said.

"At that moment, Flo did something extraordinary," Obama said. "He grabbed the bomber by the vest and kept pushing him away. In those seconds, he had the instincts and the courage to do what was needed."

President Obama presents retired US Army Capt. Florent
President Obama presents retired US Army Capt. Florent "Flo" Groberg with the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 12, 2015. Groberg earned the medal by tackling a suicide bomber in Afghanistan while serving with the 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division on August 8, 2012.

Fellow Medal of Honor recipients attend Capt. Florent A. "Flo" Groberg's ceremony on Nov. 12 at the White House.

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

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.

"Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere," Obama said. "Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious."

When he came to, "his eardrum was blown out. His leg was broken and bleeding badly," Obama said. But Groberg had the presence of mind to prepare for a possible secondary attack.

A history of the Medal of Honor

For more than 150 years, the Medal of Honor has been the U.S. military's highest award for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.

"When a comrade found him in the smoke, Flo had his pistol out, dragging his wounded body from the road," Obama said.

Groberg and Mahoney caused the bomber to detonate away from the group and into the ground, saving countless lives, Obama said.

"That explosion also caused a second unseen bomb to detonate before it was in place," he said. "Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed."

The first blast killed four Americans and wounded several others.

Groberg, in an earlier interview with Army Times, said his goal is to make sure others know about and remember the four men lost that day: Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, the brigade's senior enlisted soldier; Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, the brigade's fire support coordinator; Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, of the 13th Air Support Operations Squadron; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, who was on his second voluntary tour with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin Age: 45 Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming MOS: Armor Crewman (19K)
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin Age: 45 Hometown: Laramie, Wyoming MOS: Armor Crewman (19K)

Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin

Photo Credit: DoD

"Four heroes, true heroes in this case, individuals who gave it all," Groberg said. "This medal belongs to them. It is my mission to tell everyone, 'Thank you for recognizing me, but this does not belong to me. It belongs to them.'"

Griffin was a 24-year Army veteran and a mentor "who always found time for Flo and any other soldier who wanted to talk," Obama said. Kennedy was a popular West Point graduate who "cared more about others than himself," and Gray was known for his smile and for always seeming to run into a friend wherever he went. Abdelfattah, who moved to the U.S. from Eygpt, "reveled in everything American, whether it was Disneyland or chain restaurants or roadside pie," and volunteered twice to serve in Afghanistan, Obama said.

"These four men believed in America," Obama said. "They dedicated their lives to our country. They died serving it. Their families, loving wives and children, parents and siblings, bear that sacrifice most of all."

U.S. Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy Age: 35 Hometown: West Point, New York MOS: Field Artillery (13A)
U.S. Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy Age: 35 Hometown: West Point, New York MOS: Field Artillery (13A)

Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy

Photo Credit: DoD

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.

It was during his recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that Groberg first met Obama, during one of the president's regular visits with wounded warriors.

"We talked, it turned out he liked the Chicago Bears, so I liked him right away," Obama said, laughing.

Groberg persevered through his recovery, and is now medically retired from the Army.

"But, like so many of his fellow veterans of our 9/11 generation, Flo continues to serve," Obama said.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray Age: 38 Hometown: Conyers, Georgia MOS: Air Liaison Officer (3LXX)
U.S. Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray Age: 38 Hometown: Conyers, Georgia MOS: Air Liaison Officer (3LXX)

Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray

Photo Credit: DoD

The president cited his remarks from Wednesday's Veterans Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery, where he highlighted veterans as "incredibly highly skilled, dynamic leaders, always looking for that next chapter of service to America."

"For Flo, it's a civilian job at the Department of Defense to help take care of our troops and keep our military strong," Obama said. "And every day that he is serving, he will be wearing a bracelet on his wrist, as he is today, a bracelet that bears the names of his brothers in arms who gave their lives that day."

On Friday, Groberg will be inducted into the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

Mr. Ragaei Abdelfattah Age: 43 Hometown: Annapolis, Maryland Occupation: USAID Foreign Service Officer
Mr. Ragaei Abdelfattah Age: 43 Hometown: Annapolis, Maryland Occupation: USAID Foreign Service Officer

Ragaei Abdelfattah

Photo Credit: DoD

In addition to being the 10th living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq, Groberg is the third soldier from 4th BCT, 4th Infantry Division, to receive the medal for actions in Afghanistan. Clinton Romesha and Ty Carter, both former staff sergeants, received the Medal of Honor in 2013 for their actions during the fierce October 2009 battle at Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan.

Seven troops have been posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.