Eight seconds. That’s how long it took for U.S. Army Capt. Florent Groberg’s life to change forever.
On the morning of Aug. 8, 2012, he led a security detail tasked with escorting 28 American and Afghan personnel to a routine security meeting.
As the group approached their destination on foot, Groberg spotted an individual walking backwards in their direction. The man abruptly turned toward them, prompting Groberg to rush toward him and shove him away.
As he did so, Groberg realized the man had a suicide bomb hidden under his vest. The soldier grabbed him by the vest and continued to push him farther from the formation, with the help of Sgt. Andrew Mahoney.
The bomb detonated, and Groberg blacked out.
Moments later, a second bomb prematurely detonated nearby.
The eight-second attack left Groberg with the loss of about half of his left calf muscle, a mild traumatic head injury and a blown eardrum. Four of his fellow soldiers were killed.
But his actions during those few seconds saved many more lives. And on Thursday, Groberg received the highest military distinction in the United States, the Medal of Honor.
“For all the valor we celebrate and all the courage that inspires us, these actions were demanded amidst some of the most dreadful moments of war,” President Obama said during the White House ceremony. “That’s precisely why we honor heroes like Flo, because on his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best.”
But the blast was only the beginning of his fight. Groberg, a UMD alumnus, underwent 33 surgeries at Walter Reed Hospital during his three-year recovery period.
“A day after Veteran’s Day, we honor this American veteran, whose story, like so many of our vets and wounded warriors, speaks not only of gallantry on the battlefield, but resilience here at home,” Obama said.
A senate spending bill passed Tuesday will bring the Veterans Administration’s budget for medical services up to $51 billion, which will serve to cover care for veterans like Groberg.
The bill passed 93-0, a sign of the bipartisan effort to protect the rights of veterans who risk their lives to protect this country.
Groberg dedicated his award to the four veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“I’m so blessed and honored for the medal, but it doesn’t belong to me,” he told reporters in a news conference on Wednesday. “It belongs to them.”
Groberg will deliver the winter commencement speech at the University of Maryland on Dec. 19.
“Today and every day, we as a nation and as a University must do all we can to support [student veterans’] education and success,” university President Wallace Loh said via an email sent to the university community. “…When our veterans return home, our service begins.”
Groberg is the 10th living recipient of the Medal of Honor earned for actions in Afghanistan and the first from Maryland.