The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This Army captain will get the Medal of Honor for tackling an Afghan suicide bomber

Then 1st Lt. Florent Groberg over Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)
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In Afghanistan, death can be buried in the ground, launched from hilltops and fired from open doorways.

But on the morning of Aug. 8 2012, as Army Capt. Florent Groberg and a group of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division patrolled through the dirt streets of Asadabad, Afghanistan—death walked backwards.

Groberg was the head of a personal security detachment that day—a small cadre of soldiers responsible for getting 28 people, including a number of high-ranking brigade and battalion commanders to a meeting at  the provincial governor’s residence.

The patrol was halted at a chokepoint—a small bridge they had to cross in order to keep moving—when two motorcycles approached them. The drivers dismounted and ran away. Then Groberg noticed something odd. To the left, as the patrol watched the men abandon their motorcycles on the bridge, an individual was slowly walking back-first towards them.

As he grew near, the man suddenly turned towards the patrol.

Groberg charged and shoved the man, pushing him back. Quickly, with the help of another soldier from his unit, the two grabbed the man and threw him to the ground.

“I pushed him as hard as he could and I just wanted to get him as far away from my guys as possible,” Groberg said in account provided by the Army.

Then there was the explosion.

The man Groberg helped throw to the ground was wearing a suicide vest with a “dead-man’s trigger.” According to Groberg, the man depressed the detonator as he walked towards the cluster of Americans. It just took Groberg throwing him to the ground for his hand to slip free and the circuit to complete.

In the ensuing confusion a second suicide bomber meant to hit the patrol detonated his vest prematurely, sending the debris and shrapnel into a nearby building.

When the smoke cleared, two American soldiers, an airman and a USAID worker were dead.

Groberg was badly wounded–his fibula had torn through his left leg and his flesh was melting to his uniform.

Groberg’s actions are credited for disrupting the two suicide attack and saving countless lives that day, and on Nov 12. President Barrack Obama will award Groberg the Medal of Honor. He will be the 10th living recipient from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to receive the medal.

“It was the worst day of my life because even though we defeated the enemy I lost four of my brothers,” Groberg said. “This medal is not about me, it’s about the four individuals that I lost. It’s about them, it’s about their families, it’s about true heroes that sacrificed everything for their country.

Groberg, now 32, was originally born in France and became a U.S. citizen in 2001. He graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md in June of the same year and soon after attended the University of Maryland, College Park. There he competed in track and cross country. In May 2006, Groberg graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice.

In 2008, he joined the Army and commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. The next year he deployed to the Pech River valley in Afghanistan. Upon his return in 2010 he transferred to the brigade personal security detachment for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and deployed to Kunar Province Afghanistan with Task Force Mountain Warrior in February 2012.

He was promoted to the rank of captain a month before he was wounded in August 2012.

After recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Groberg for more than two years, Groberg left the Army. He now works as a civilian with Department of Defense.

The names of those killed in the attack on Aug. 8 2012 are as follows:

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin

Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray

Mr. Ragaei Abdelfattah

Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy