Soldier who tackled suicide bomber to receive Medal of Honor
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 15, 2015
WASHINGTON — For Capt. Florent Groberg, the worst moments of his life began with the suspicious approach of two motorcycles.
Groberg was leading an Army security detail down a street in Abadabad, Afghanistan in August 2012. His team of six 4th Infantry Division combat brigade soldiers were in a protective diamond formation around a group of visiting VIPs — two brigade commanders, three battalion commanders, the brigade’s command sergeant major and an Afghan general — who were moving toward a provincial compound for a security conference.
In hindsight, the motorcycles were a diversion for the attack to follow shortly. An Afghan suicide bomber on foot targeted the group and Groberg’s rush to tackle him shielded fellow soldiers from a deadly attack aimed at much wider carnage. For his bravery, Groberg will become the tenth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Afghanistan, the White House announced Wednesday.
He will join two other recent recipients who served with the division’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. A medal ceremony with President Barack Obama is planned for Nov. 12. Staff Sgt. Ty Carter and Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha received the award in 2013.
“It was the worst day of my life because even though we defeated the enemy I lost four brothers,” Groberg said in an account released by the Army. “This medal is not about me. It is about the four individuals that I lost. It is about them, it is about their families.
“It is about true heroes that sacrificed everything for their country. That medal represents them.”
That day, the motorcycles had stopped midway across a canal bridge on the route to the compound. It was a chokepoint but there was no immediate alarm among the unit, according to the Army.
“A man came out of a building. He was walking backwards, which was eerie, and then started walking towards us,” Groberg said.
It was an abrupt turn toward the group and Groberg broke from his position to confront the Afghan.
“I pushed him as hard as I could. Honestly, I just wanted to get him as far away from my guys as possible,” he said.
The man was wearing a suicide vest with a “dead-man’s trigger,” meaning it had been activated and was ready to detonate before the bomber approached the security detachment and VIPs.
All the bomber had to do was release his grip.
Groberg immediately identified the vest. Another soldier on his team, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, was at his side and together they forced the bomber away from the group and to the ground.
“As he hit the ground chest-first, he let go of the trigger and he detonated,” Groberg said.
The blast knocked Groberg out and threw him about 15-20 feet, according to a video interview he gave to the Army Times newspaper. As the dust cleared, he reached for his pistol for protection.
His calf was badly mangled and he was covered in blood, apparently from the suicide bomber.
“I remember waking up and my leg, my fibula was sticking out,” he said. “The skin was melting. Just blood everywhere.”
Mahoney escaped with less severe injuries and was awarded the Silver Star in 2013 for his service during the attack.
“It was my job to provide security and that is exactly what I did. It was just another day in the life of me,” Mahoney later told a Colorado news station. “I think I used up all my luck on that day, so I will tread lightly if I have to deploy again.”
After Groberg woke from the blast, he asked about his six soldiers and the other 28 members of the coalition force, including Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Griffin, 45, of the 4th BCT.
The attack had been diverted but the news was grim.
Griffin and three others were killed, including Air Force Maj. Walter David Gray, 38; Army Maj. Thomas Kennedy, 35, and Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, a USAID foreign-service officer.
A second suicide bomber planned to attack the group but the move by Groberg and Mahoney had caused his vest to detonate prematurely, according to the Army.
That second blast was focused into a nearby building, blunting its effects.
Groberg, who was originally born in France and gained U.S. citizenship in 2001, left the battlefield that day. His leg shattered, Groberg started a marathon slog toward recovery. The bombing had claimed about half of his calf muscle, damage nerves, ruptured an eardrum and caused brain injury.
Groberg started his Army career with an infantry officer commission in 2008 and ended it with nearly three years at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda.
“We sent a message that no matter how bad you want to hurt us, we are always going to keep standing up and we are going to bring it back twice-fold on you,” said Groberg, who was medically retired this year.