UMD Grad Receives Medal of Honor for Afghanistan Heroism
Retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg ’06 remembers having almost no time to make the decision that changed his life, saved many others’ and earned him the nation’s highest award for valor.
Groberg was in charge of security in August 2012 for a group of U.S. officers walking to a routine meeting in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province when he noticed a man emerge from a building and bizarrely walk backward toward them.
Groberg yelled out and immediately charged the man. As he flung him to the ground with help from Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, he felt—as he’d feared—a suicide vest beneath the attacker’s clothes.
“It’s such a short story,” he says. “It was eight seconds from the time I ID’d the guy to the explosion.”
The insurgent’s bomb detonated when he hit the ground, releasing a deadly spray of ball bearings that ripped away part of Groberg’s left calf. The blast threw him 15 to 20 feet and caused a traumatic brain injury as well. (Mahoney was less severely injured, and later received the Silver Star.) Another suicide bomber they hadn’t spotted detonated almost concurrently, and together the blasts killed four Americans.
Nevertheless, Groberg’s self-sacrificing takedown stopped the bombers from penetrating into the heart of the troop formation and causing greater carnage. A brigadier general who watched it unfold later compared Groberg’s action to throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades.
Old friends at Maryland were shocked when they heard about the attack, but not surprised by Groberg’s actions.
“He was always a team-first kind of guy,” says Andrew Valmon, head coach of Maryland’s track and field and cross-country teams. Groberg, a talented middle distance runner who earned a spot in the UMD record book for the 3,000-meter race, competed in most team relays even though it had the potential to increase his individual race times, Valmon says.
The lessons of leadership and service began sinking into him at Maryland, says Groberg, a criminology and criminal justice major and former auxiliary campus police officer at UMD.
“You could say I learned about brotherhood, and about having to learn to follow before you can lead,” he says. “But when I got to the military—that’s such a different organization than anything else. You are responsible at a young age for the lives of many other people.”
Groberg, son of an American father and French-Algerian mother, spent his childhood in France and became a U.S. citizen in 2001. He’d long been focused on an Army career before joining in 2008.
He built a reputation as a formidable soldier, said Brig. Gen. James Mingus, who put him in charge of his personal security detachment.
“I hand-picked him based on personal observations and recommendations from his chain of command,” Mingus said in an Army press release. “Flo was and is a dynamic and powerful leader.”
Next, he planned to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment and hoped eventually to graduate to the Army’s Delta Force, which shares the military’s most secret and difficult missions with seal Team 6.
“For an infantry soldier, that’s as high as you can aim,” he says.
Groberg clung to the hope of returning to the battlefield as he recovered from his injuries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, enduring over 30 surgeries before finally accepting medical retirement.
Today he’s a Department of Defense civilian who quietly wears a bracelet inscribed with the names of the men who gave their lives on what he calls “the worst day of my life.”
In November, President Barack Obama placed the Medal of Honor around Groberg’s neck at the White House. Groberg, the president said, displayed the true meaning of courage in those eight decisive seconds—“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.”
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