White House

Obama awards Medal of Honor to Army captain who tackled suicide bomber

President Barack Obama bestows the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Capt. Florent Groberg, for his actions during combat operations in Afghanistan, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
President Barack Obama bestows the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Capt. Florent Groberg, for his actions during combat operations in Afghanistan, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AP

The eight seconds that made Florent Groberg a hero also made Aug. 8, 2012, the worst day of his life.

President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor Thursday to the French-born former army captain for selflessly tackling a suicide bomber out of the way of his comrades while serving in Kunar province in Afghanistan.

“In those few seconds, he had the instincts and the courage to do what was needed,” Obama said at a White House ceremony. “His actions prevented an even greater catastrophe.”

Groberg, 32, was providing security detail for senior U.S. military officials when he spotted a lone figure turning abruptly and coming towards them, according to the White House. He tackled the man to the ground, and with the help of a fellow soldier pushed him away from the group. The bomb strapped around the man’s waist detonated, throwing Groberg 15-20 feet into the air.

The blast killed four and injured 16. A second suicide bomber detonated his explosives further away from the group, with a nearby building absorbing most of the blast. He detonated prematurely because of Groberg's actions to thwart the first bomber, according to the Army.

“Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many would have been killed,” Obama said.

During the ceremony, Groberg struggled to hold back tears when Obama acknowledged the families of the four men who were killed, one of whom was his mentor. He wears a bracelet with their names on his wrist.

Obama brought some levity to the solemn occasion by telling an audience of family, friends, and military members about how after coming to at a hospital following the blast, Groberg thought that the lead singer of the heavy metal band Korn was at his bedside talking to him.

“Flo thought, 'What's going on? Am I hallucinating?’ ” Obama said. “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,” the president teased.

Groberg is the first foreign-born recipient of the nation’s highest military honor since the Vietnam War. Born in France, Groberg moved to Bethesda, Md. in middle school and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 2006, where he ran track and cross country.

Obama said Groberg’s years as an athlete honed his instincts for military service. “As he later found out, a few seconds can make all the difference,” he said.

Groberg is the 10th living survivor of the Afghanistan war to receive the distinction, and the first from Maryland.

The attack tore up Groberg’s left leg, and he lost almost 50 percent of his calf muscle. He was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, where he was visited by Obama as he underwent more than thirty procedures on his leg.

On Thursday, he walked without a discernible limp.

“He’s not running, but he’s doing a lot of Crossfit. I would not challenge him,” Obama said.

After the ceremony, standing outside the White House in the rain, Groberg, who is retired from the Army and works as a civilian at the Department of Defense, told reporters he was “honored.”

“This medal is the greatest honor you could ever receive, and I am blessed and just grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve my country,” he said. “But this medal belongs to the true heroes...who made the ultimate sacrifice and didn't come home.”

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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