WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Thursday that a young French-born U.S. Army captain who is the newest Medal of Honor recipient had the instincts and the courage to tackle a suicide bomber in Afghanistan during a moment of selfless bravery, saving the lives of many comrades.
Four people were still killed, and Florent Groberg suffered a leg injury so severe that he needed 33 surgeries to save it.
But Obama said what helped make Groberg a “great runner” during his student days at the University of Maryland also made him a “great soldier.”
Groberg is the 10th living service member from actions in Iraq or Afghanistan to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor for battlefield bravery.
Obama said that when Groberg came to in the hospital after the explosion in August 2012, he thought was in Germany and that the lead singer from the heavy metal band Korn was at his bedside and talking to him.
“Flo thought, ‘What’s going on? Am I hallucinating?” Obama said, telling the story to an audience of family, friends and others gathered for the White House medal ceremony. “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.
Groberg, now 32 and medically retired from the Army, is credited with saving many lives by tackling the suicide bomber. Three service members and a foreign service officer were killed when the bomber’s vest exploded. Groberg has said he shares the medal with the four who didn’t get to come home alive.
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.
Groberg deployed to Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in November 2009 and again in February 2012. He was helping lead an escort for a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor when his unit encountered the bomber. Groberg, with assistance from another soldier in the security detail, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, tackled him to the ground where the bomber’s vest detonated.
Groberg spent nearly three years recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and endured 33 surgeries.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald spoke about Groberg during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. He said Groberg is emblematic of the sacrifices made by every generation of veterans.
“Captain Groberg acted in a manner that saved the lives of many of his comrades. Tragically, he could not save them all,” McDonald said. “When he was informed last month that he would receive the Medal of Honor, he said, and I quote, ‘This medal belongs to them. It’s my mission to tell everyone thank you for recognizing me, but this does not belong to me. It belongs to them. That’s how I’m coping with it mentally.’ ”