Secretary of Defense
Medal of Honor Ceremony for Captain Florent Groberg
Good morning, General Milley, Acting Secretary Fanning, to senior leaders of the Department, civilian and military, and especially, to the Medal of Honor recipients here today, it’s an honor to have you all with us.
I want express at the beginning my particular appreciation for Captain Groberg’s parents. Larry and Klara, though you raised your son in different places across the country, around the world, you instilled in him an abiding sense of service, you developed in him an unbounded sense of honor.
And if you listen closely to what Flo has said, you’ll get a sense that one person above all developed his toughness. Of course, that’s his mother Klara. So when Army officials explained he would be sent to San Antonio for his rehabilitation rather than closer to home, she knows what’s coming, Captain Groberg had to make one thing clear and this is a quote form him: “If you thought the enemy was bad in Afghanistan,” he told them, “Wait until my mother finds out you’re sending me to Texas.”
Ultimately…the Army thought better of it, sending Captain Groberg to Walter Reed, where he received world-class care over nearly three years of intensive rehabilitation. In our visits to Walter Reed in the past few years, my wife Stephanie and I have so often been impressed by the quality of the care there. And of course, what impresses us most – what truly inspires us there – is the spirit and resilience of our warriors there, warriors like Captain Florent Groberg, who against all odds, can stand with us today.
And I want to thank the members of Captain Groberg’s extended family, his military family, men who were his brothers on the battlefield who remained close to him in recovery.
From Platoon Sergeant Brian Brink, who carried Captain Groberg to safety, to Specialist Daniel Balderrama, who immediately treated his life-threatening wounds, to Sergeant Andrew Mahoney who helped confront the suicide bomber, to Private First Class Ben Secor and Eric Ochart, who carried members of the team to safety, each of you helped save lives. You not only witnessed Captain Groberg’s courageous decisions, you contributed to them. In so many ways, you were the reason he made them.
I’ve made many visits to Afghanistan over the past several years -- enough to understand that the mountains and valleys in the country’s northeast where Captain Groberg and his team patrolled in 2012 were a forbidding frontier. So while the medal is received by one; honor, courage, and valor were required by all.
And above all – and as Captain Groberg has so often emphasized – we have a duty to honor those who can be with us only in spirit and memory. To the families of those who gave their lives serving with Captain Groberg, here also, Command Sergeant Major Kevin Griffin, Major Thomas Kennedy, Air Force Major Walter Gray, and Ragaei Abdelfattah, you have our deepest sympathy and appreciation.
Try as we may, and try as we do, we can never fully know the weight of your loss. But we do know – we fully know – what your loved ones’ sacrifice mean to this country and those they served alongside.
Honoring and remembering the fallen is part of our sacred trust. And so too is honoring the exceptional courage of those who survived them, those who carry forward their memory by living among us.
As we reflect today upon those fateful moments in Kunar Province, we can clearly see how Captain Groberg went above and beyond the call of duty. As it reads on Captain Groberg’s Medal of Honor Citation – and as it is written on every Medal of Honor Citation – “he distinguished himself conspicuously by his gallantry.”
We also see how Captain Groberg’s courage stood in stark contrast to the cowardice of the suicide bomber he confronted. While this enemy was willing to die so he could harm others, Captain Groberg was willing to risk his life to save others. While the enemy was motivated by self-delusion, Captain Groberg was driven by selfless service. And while the enemy was sent to his death by a movement that cares nothing for life, Captain Groberg was standing for the great values of the greatest nation as one of the finest fighting force the world has ever known. He was rescued by brothers who put themselves in danger, refusing to leave him behind. In that moment of testing, we learned about Captain Groberg's courage, but also his character, which defines the American soldier.
While we reflect upon what made Captain Groberg’s actions so truly exceptional, we should also remember all that he shares with so many from his generation. Over 14 years of war, whether in Kunar or Korengal, in Baghdad or Basra, hundreds of thousands of Captain Groberg’s peers have served with honor, courage, and excellence. Each of our lives – and the life of this nation – is richer because of their example.
In becoming the 10th living American to receive the Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan, Captain Groberg embodies the highest values of these Americans – men and women who came of age in the shadow of the 9/11 attacks.
He attended high school just a short drive from where we stand today -- graduating in the same year this building and our nation were attacked.
It was a far different time then and in so many ways, Flo was a different person. As President Obama noted yesterday, Flo’s coaches from high school and college recall one particular aspect of his character that would endure. They remember that it wasn’t Flo’s performance in individual races and events where he showed his greatest potential, though that was great. It was when he ran with the baton and passed it forward – it was as a member of a relay team -- where he proved his great determination.
And what was true on the track was true for Flo when he considered a career. After graduating from college, he held a couple of different jobs, but none inspired him. It was only when Flo found a team where he could make a difference, when he found the Army, that he discovered both his career and a calling. And for Flo, there was reason why committing to the U.S. Army would’ve meant more to him than some others. Even before he could wear the uniform, he had to make a significant sacrifice; he had to make a conscious choice to leave the French citizenship of his birth behind.
Yesterday, when President Obama placed the blue ribbon around his neck at the White House, Captain Groberg became the first foreign-born recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. But if you study the biographies of the nearly 3,500 Medal of Honor Recipients, you will find that Captain Groberg follows in the footsteps of a long line of heroes – heroes who gave up important ties to the past to fight for America’s future. Captain Groberg has joined more than 20%, as it turns out, of all Medal of Honor Recipients who were born on foreign shores.
So Captain Groberg chose to commit himself completely to this country; he chose repeatedly to lead his fellow soldiers with excellence; he chose to test himself against the absolute best, earning the Ranger tab. And at the moment of greatest testing, he made the most selfless and courageous choice of all: to run toward the direction of danger; to willingly put his life on the line for the sake of his brothers.
It is because our service members make these courageous choices – both in this time and across generations – that we have the chance to be free.
And as we consider the more than 3,400 names and 150 years of history chronicled in the Hall of Heroes, we begin to appreciate something Captain Groberg learned long ago: It is not in a single sprint, or even a test of our individual endurance, where we show our true strength. As a nation, we derive our greatest strength from how each of us carries the baton forward; from how Americans in each generation pass the torch of freedom onward.
As the Roman historian Tacitus wrote nearly 2,000 years ago: “In Valor there is Hope.” So as we honor Captain Groberg’s valor today, we too have hope –that the liberty and security we enjoy today will be passed forward to future generations.
Thank you Captain Groberg for your courageous actions, for your example, and for your exceptional service to our nation.