France-born soldier becomes American war hero
Wrapped around Florent Groberg’s right wrist is a scratched, black metal band he hardly ever takes off.
The soldier’s bracelet is engraved with a date in 2012, along with the names and ranks of three comrades who were killed in a suicide blast in Afghanistan.
Next week, President Barack Obama will give Groberg the Medal of Honor, the highest award any US service member can receive, for his actions during the attack.
“It doesn’t belong to me,” the retired Army captain told AFP in a recent interview. “It belongs to the true heroes in this instance, which are the … men I lost.”
Groberg, a native of France who became a naturalized US citizen in 2001, is being credited for his actions on August 8, 2012 when he hurled himself at a suicide bomber in the Afghan city of Asadabad.
The blast left Groberg with serious injuries to his left leg and killed three of his colleagues, along with a US Agency for International Development (USAID) foreign service officer.
– ‘Something felt weird’ –
It was Groberg’s second Afghan tour, and he was in charge of security for high-ranking officers including an Afghan general and several US colonels.
His mission the morning of the attack was to escort them on foot from a forward operating base to the provincial governor’s compound for a meeting.
“Something felt weird,” Groberg recalled, so he changed up the positioning of the men in his patrol and went to the front of the group.
Shortly after, the soldiers noticed a pair of motorcycles driving toward them. That was a first warning; motorcycles are often used in coordinated attacks.
The riders turned away when they saw they had been spotted, but Groberg saw a young man — not older than 20 — walking towards his group.
He should not have been there.
“I saw the guy. He is walking backwards, parallel to us,” Groberg said. “I met him, hit him, grabbed him. And when I grabbed him I realized he had a suicide vest on.”
“All I could think was, ‘I gotta get this guy as far away as possible from everybody else,'” Groberg said, describing how he pushed the bomber down.
“The last I remember is him hitting the ground, and me looking at him and something came out of his hand,” he added, referring to the vest’s detonator.
Shortly after the blast, Groberg regained consciousness. He saw his fibula sticking out of his leg.
“My leg was melting,” he said. “Thought I must have stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and I am probably being ambushed, and they are going to shoot me.”
– ‘Only God can answer’ –
A colleague dragged Groberg from the “kill zone” and he was soon given medical attention.
But four people died, and about a dozen more were injured.
Groberg survived even though he was closest to the blast because the suicide bomber’s vest was packed with ball bearings that hurtled out sideways, away from him.
“That’s a question that only God can answer,” Groberg said when asked how he thought he pulled through.
The victims were: Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin and Major Thomas Kennedy from the Army; Air Force Major Walter Gray; and Ragaei Abdelfattah, the aid officer.
“The explosion caused a second suicide bomber, who remained hidden behind a small structure near the road, to detonate his vest prematurely,” the Army said in a statement.
“Groberg’s actions disrupted both bombers from detonating as planned, saving the majority of lives he was charged with protecting.”
The Medal of Honor is awarded to US troops who distinguish themselves by gallantry “above and beyond” the call of duty. Groberg will receive his medal on November 12.
– Misses French food –
Born in Poissy outside Paris in 1983 to a French-Algerian mother, Groberg came to the United States more than 20 years ago with his mother and adoptive father, who is American.
He quickly integrated into the US school system and American life but said a “big part of my heart” remains French, especially when it comes to soccer loyalties and culinary choices.
I miss “crepes, the food, which is the best in the world,” Groberg said during a 30-minute interview in which he switched effortlessly between French and English.
Groberg, now medically retired from the Army, hopes to continue working in the Department of Defense as a policy expert.