Capt. Florent "Flo" Groberg says the Medal of Honor that President Barack Obama will hang around his neck Nov. 12 will never truly be his own.
The retired Fort Carson officer says the medal is really for the four men who died Aug. 8, 2012, after Groberg tackled a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
The Army says Groberg's actions, which left him with severe wounds to his legs, saved the lives of other soldiers and set an example of valor and gallantry that will be honored through history. Groberg, in a telephone interview from the Pentagon, says he was just doing his job for Fort Carson's 4th Brigade Combat Team.
"I don't feel really comfortable with it," he said of America's highest decoration for combat valor. "But it gives me a chance to talk about the four guys that were lost and their families."
Those four are Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38, of Conyers, Ga.; Army Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y.; Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, of Laramie, Wyo. and State Department worker Ragaei Abdelfattah, 43, of Annapolis, Md.
Groberg said he was in the right place, at the right time, with the right training.
Fort Carson Brig. Gen. James Mingus, who picked Groberg to lead his personal security detail and who was saved from the suicide bomber's blast, said he quickly saw Groberg, now 32, was something special.
"He was obviously very impressive," Mingus said in an interview last week.
Born in France and raised in Maryland from the age of 11, Groberg learned English while in Bethesda and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001. Groberg showed an early passion for running, though he downplays his college running career at the University of Maryland, where he blazed through the 1,500 meters at 3 minutes, 53 seconds. He was a grinder in long distances who finished a 3.1-mile college race in 14:52.
"I was an OK runner in college," he said. "There was a lot of guys faster than me."
After college, Groberg worked for a civilian high-tech firm, but found himself drawn to life in uniform. He joined the Army in 2008 and attended officer candidate school.
As an infantry officer, Groberg was known for training for combat in the all-out fashion he'd used to get ready for races. Sent for his first deployment to Afghanistan midway through 4th Brigade's 2009 deployment there, Groberg said he had to learn the art of leading in combat quickly.
He said he leaned heavily on his sergeants as they battled through the restive Pech River Valley until returning to Colorado in June 2010.
"We brought everybody home," he remembered.
Mingus said the work ethic made Groberg a popular leader.
"Everyone knew who he was," Mingus said.
In 2012, Groberg and a team of six worked as protectors for Mingus and his command team. Mingus said the job involved near-constant travel as he met with Afghan officials. At that time, the job for American leaders was to reinforce Afghan efforts to defeat insurgents and govern their country.
On on Aug. 8, 2012, Mingus was leading a contingent on its way to meet with the governor of Kunar province. The weekly security meeting, Mingus said, was an Afghan-led affair.
Groberg's six-soldier security detachment was protecting Mingus and 27 other American and Afghan leaders on a walk from a U.S. outpost to the governor's compound in Assadabad.
"Something didn't feel right," said Groberg, who walked at the head of the formation. "We all knew it."
At a bridge, the group was stopped by approaching motorcycles. The security detachment then saw two men who looked suspicious. When one of them turned toward the officers, Groberg showed his speed.
"I saw him tackle the suicide bomber," Mingus said.
The bomber wore a vest laden with explosives and ball bearings. It was the clothing equivalent of a Claymore mine.
"I saw a bad guy, thought he was a threat and I wanted to eliminate the threat away from the boss," Groberg said.
Groberg remembered taking the man to the ground with the help of another soldier, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, who earned the Silver Star for his actions that day. Groberg's speech becomes clipped when he talks about the tiny increment of time that changed his life
"He landed on my feet. He detonated. It lasted 8 seconds," he said. "You don't think about the consequences."
The detonation of another suicide bomber killed the four men in the group. But that could have been worse. Mingus said Groberg's rapid response to the first bomber caused the second insurgent to prematurely detonate his device.
Groberg was badly wounded in the encounter. The blast sent shrapnel into those swift legs.
"It was apparent pretty quickly that what he and Sgt. Mahoney had done was pretty heroic," Mingus said.
Groberg, who spent months recovering from his wounds, though, says it was nothing special. He credits training for stopping the bomber. And while Groberg will accept the medal from the president Nov. 12, he'll never claim to own it.
"It represents the four guys I lost," he said. "They were true heroes. That's who the medal belongs to."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240