Video by PBS NewsHour
WASHINGTON — An Army captain who shoved a suicide bomber to the ground and away from his security detail became the nation’s newest Medal of Honor recipient Thursday as President Barack Obama credited his actions with preventing a greater catastrophe from occurring.
Florent Groberg, 32, is the 10th living service member awarded the nation’s highest honor for battlefield bravery in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Four people were killed in the attack, and several others were wounded. As families of the victims and some of his former Army colleagues watched, Obama draped the medal around Groberg’s neck at a White House ceremony. Groberg fought to keep his emotions in check as he faced the crowd and cameras. Afterward, he dedicated the medal to those killed and their families, saying they were the true heroes.
“I am blessed and just grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve my country,” Groberg said.
Obama recounted the details of the August 2012 attack, which left Groberg badly wounded and requiring nearly three years of recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Groberg was helping to lead a military escort in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province when his unit approached a bridge. As two motorcyclists caused a diversion, a man dressed in dark clothing spun toward him some 10 feet away. Groberg grabbed the bomber by the vest and kept pushing him backward, with help from fellow soldier, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney. The attacker fell to ground and the bomb detonated. That explosion also caused a second, unseen bomb to detonate before it could be placed closer to the unit.
“Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed,” Obama said.
Groberg suffered significant nerve damage and about half the calf muscle in his left leg was blown off. He needed 33 surgeries to save his leg.
Obama noted that he had met Groberg about three years ago at Walter Reed. Obama recalled that Groberg likes the Chicago Bears, “so I liked him right away.”
The Medal of Honor ceremony was somber, but Obama also recounted how Groberg first came to consciousness after the bombing. He thought he was in Germany and that the lead singer from the heavy metal band Korn was at his bedside and talking to him, Obama said.
“Flo thought, ‘What’s going on? Am I hallucinating?” Obama said. “But he wasn’t. It was all real. And so, today, Flo, I want to assure you you are not hallucinating. You are actually in the White House. Those cameras are on. I am not the lead singer from Korn,” Obama joked.
Born in Poissy, France, Groberg became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001, the same year he graduated from high school in Maryland. He also competed in track and cross country at the University of Maryland before entering the Army in 2008.
Obama said that what helped make Groberg a great runner during his student days at the University of Maryland, “training, guts, teamwork,” also made him a great soldier.
Obama and Groberg worked to ensure that those killed in the attack are also remembered. Obama cited them by name during the ceremony: Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, Maj. Tom Kennedy, Major David Gray, and a USAID foreign service officer who had volunteered for a second tour in Afghanistan, Ragaei Abdelfattah.
“These four men believed in America. 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,” Obama said.
After the ceremony, Groberg gave a statement, saying, “this medal is the greatest honor you could ever receive.” He added that the medal belonged to the true heroes who died in the attack. For the families of the victims, he said he would work to become the “right carrier for them and better myself as a human being for the rest of my life.”