President Barack Obama will award the nation's highest military honor to Florent A. Groberg, a former Army captain from Bethesda who tackled a suicide bomber to protect a group of senior officers in eastern Afghanistan, the White House said Wednesday.
Groberg, 32, is to be awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Nov. 12. He will be the 10th living recipient to be honored for actions in Afghanistan.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in France, he graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in 2001 and the University of Maryland in 2006.
Two years later, Groberg joined the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and engaged in firefights as part of a unit known as Task Force Lethal.
The unit, part of the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson in Colorado, was involved in heavy fighting across the eastern province of Kunar to help establish stability by 2010. Groberg returned to the area in 2012 as the leader of a personal security detachment for a colonel.
Groberg's unit was escorting a group of senior officers and other officials to a meeting in Asadabad in August 2012, the Army said in an account of the fight for which he is to be honored.
The group was moving down a street when they were ambushed. Groberg said he saw a man come out of a building walking backward.
"It was eerie and looked suspicious," Groberg said in the Army account. "I yelled at him and he turned around immediately and then started walking towards us."
Groberg and another soldier rushed the man, pushing him away from the other troops and down into the street. As they hit the ground, the man set off his explosive vest, filling the air with ball bearings.
A second bomber detonated his explosives within moments.
Groberg received medical treatment on the spot for a badly injured leg and was hauled into the back of an armored truck. He tried to retake command until another soldier told him to stand down. It was only then that the pain hit, Groberg said.
"It felt like a blowtorch was burning through my leg," he said.
Four people died in the attack, but the colonel Groberg had been assigned to protect emerged mostly unharmed.
Groberg was in treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center until May this year, undergoing 33 surgeries on his leg. He retired from the Army in July.
Groberg became a U.S. citizen in February 2001. He ran track throughout high school and at the University of Maryland, where he earned a degree in criminology and criminal justice.