President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to UMGC graduate student Florent Groberg on November 12 for his bravery in tackling a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, saving several lives while suffering a severe leg wound.
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, the president cited Groberg's courage in confronting the suicide bomber and getting him farther away from other soldiers and civilians before the bomb exploded.
"The truth is, Flo says that day was the worst day of his life," Obama said. "That is precisely why we honor heroes like Flo—because on his very worst day, he managed to summon his very best."
Groberg, 32, who was born in France, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001. He grew up in Bethesda, Maryland, and was a graduate of University of Maryland, College Park and a track star before joining the U.S. Army.
He is working now on a Master of Science in Management with a specialization in Intelligence Management at UMGC while working as a civilian employee with the Defense Department.
UMGC President Javier Miyares lauded Groberg for his bravery, which led to his being one of only ten living soldiers from the Afghan War—the longest in American history—to earn the honor.
"Captain Groberg saved many lives, at great cost to himself," Miyares said. "We are humbled to know that so many of our students are like him—sacrificing their own comforts and safety to defend our nation. He is one of ours—and he is one of many"
Groberg himself acknowledged the work UMGC is doing to educate so many military personnel.
"I have had a tremendous experience at UMGC, and I am looking forward to completing my degree in the very near future," he said. "Please keep up the great work with our military students. UMGC does an outstanding job allowing us to further our education from anywhere in the world."
In a ceremony that made the front page of the Washington Post, President Obama said the citation "speaks not only of gallantry on the battlefield but resilience here at home."
During the three years since he survived the attack, Groberg has undergone 33 surgeries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and rehabilitation work.
The ordeal began on August 8, 2012, when he and Sergeant First Class Brian Brink led a personal security detail that was responsible for escorting an Army colonel to a meeting with an Afghan provincial governor.
Groberg was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, serving as a personal security detachment commander for Task Force Mountain Warrior, Fourth Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division.
"Things just felt different that day," Groberg told CNN. "I switched everything in regards to the way we position ourselves. I had a weird feeling inside. 'Spidey' senses are ticking, and you're kind of, 'Alright, I don't like this.'"
He saw an Afghan male in dark clothing come out of a building, walking backward toward his group.
"As soon as he started moving toward our patrol, I left my position to go meet him, because he's a threat and I need to get him away," Groberg said in the CNN interview. "So I hit him with my rifle, and that's when I felt I hit a vest under his clothing. So I grabbed him by his vest and tried to push him down and throw him.
"And then he detonated at my feet."
The blast from the first suicide bomb caused the suicide vest of a previously unnoticed second suicide bomber to detonate prematurely with minimal impact on the formation, the citation read.
President Obama continued the story.
"Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere," the president said. "Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious. And moments later, he woke up in the middle of the road in shock. His eardrum was blown out. His leg was broken and bleeding badly. Still, he realized that if the enemy launched a secondary attack, he'd be a sitting duck. When a comrade found him in the smoke, Flo had his pistol out, dragging his wounded body from the road."
Obama said Groberg's action "prevented an even greater catastrophe. You see, by pushing the bomber away from the formation, the explosion occurred farther from our forces and on the ground instead of the open air. Had both bombs gone off as planned, who knows how many could have been killed."
But Groberg said he wanted to be sure the four people killed in that attack were also recognized: Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin, Major Tom Kennedy, Major David Gray, and USAID foreign service officer Ragaei Abdelfatah.
"People need to understand who they are and that they are true heroes in all this," he told CNN.