Florent Groberg knew how to run, and he ran fast.
The former resident of the Supply community, where his parents still live, dedicated much of his life to improving his speed and stamina on the track.
But on August 8, 2012, Groberg didn’t run; he fought. His heroism saved lives, but he sustained an injury to his left leg that has left him recovering in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the last two years.
While he’s made leaps and bounds, recovering from 33 surgeries, he’s still unable to run. His goal is to circle the track again someday, but right now he’s focused on making the most of his life—a life he lives for four other men.
Groberg discovered his passion for running early in life and followed that passion to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he became a member of the track and cross country teams. He excelled, and eventually transferred to the University of Maryland in order to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
As a Terrapin, Groberg lettered in both track and cross country. He graduated in 2008 and made the decision to serve his country, enlisting in the Army. A good soldier, he quickly rose through the ranks, completing Officer Candidate School, Infantry School for Officers and the Army’s elite Ranger School.
Groberg deployed for the first time in 2009, serving as platoon leader for the 212th Infantry, Second Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. He was stationed in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan until he returned to the states in June 2010.
About a year later, Groberg learned he would return to Afghanistan to head a security team for Colonel James Mingus, the brigade commander for 45 out-stations located in five provinces across eastern Afghanistan. In March 2012, Groberg deployed to the Nangarhar Province.
On August 8, 2012, Groberg and the security team were escorting Mingus and another brigade commander “outside the wire” to visit the Provincial Governor of the Kunar Province. They traveled from Nangarhar to a base in Kunar by helicopter. Once they landed, they would have to complete their journey on foot.
“So we were outside the wire for about 800 to 1000 meters,” Groberg said.
On the way to the compound, the group met two motorcyclists coming toward them at full-speed before suddenly dumping the bikes.
While the soldiers were fixated on the motorcylists, a man came out of a nearby building. He was within 10 meters of them when Groberg noticed him. At first, the man was walking backwards. Then he made a turn and was heading for the group. Groberg reacted.
“I hit him,” he said. “I screamed at him, ‘What are you doing?’ I probably used some other words, you know. When I hit him, I realized he had a vest on. So I grabbed him.”
Groberg and one of his team members tackled the man before he could get close to Mingus.
“We threw him on the ground,” Groberg said. “He landed on his chest and detonated.”
The blast threw Groberg about 15 feet, knocking him unconscious for a few minutes.
“I woke up on the ground, after a minute or two, and my fibula was sticking out. My leg was melting, my muscles were melting, and my foot was turned,” Groberg recalled.
At first, he didn’t realize what had happened.
“I thought I must have stepped on an IED,” he said. “I didn’t feel any pain. I was in shock, and I knew that too.”
Knowing there was the possibility of further ambush, and unable to find his rifle, Groberg grabbed his pistol and made sure a round was in the chamber.
A few minutes later, his platoon sergeant grabbed him and pulled him to a ditch, where a medic began working on his leg. Still unable to feel pain, he asked for a situational report.
The platoon sergeant explained that Mingus was alive and unharmed, but a second suicide bomber had come at the group from another direction. Four men were killed and the other brigade commander was injured.
Though Groberg had lost a lot of blood, the medic continued to work on him, keeping him awake.
(For more on this story, see this week's edition of The State Port Pilot.)