He told the firefighters while visiting their station Saturday he never could do their job.
He said he couldn’t imagine facing, every day, the prospect of kicking down a door to save someone in a burning house.
Walking into danger.
“Some people are wired to be a firefighter or a police officer, but not me,” said Florent “Flo” Groberg.
Yes, and some people are wired to be heroes.
Groberg, a retired captain in the U.S. Army, cringes at the “H” word, and said the four brothers he lost on Aug. 8, 2012 in Afghanistan would “kick his butt” if they heard him calling them heroes.
Whatever you call Groberg, the facts are this:
The suicide bomber’s thumb was on a “dead man’s trigger,” meaning it would detonate once the grip was released.
Groberg said his training and instincts kicked in:
Neutralize the threat.
Groberg was standing, the suicide bomber at his feet, when the bomb detonated.
Miraculously, he and a comrade, Sgt. Andrew Mahoney, who helped tackle the suicide bomber, weren’t killed, although Groberg suffered grievous injuries.
But four Americans died in the blast: Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray and Ragaei Abdelfattah, a U.S. Agency for International Development foreign service officer.
For his actions on Aug. 8, 2012 — actions military authorities say certainly saved the lives of more U.S. soldiers (the contingent that day totaled 28) — Groberg was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama on Nov. 12 — the highest award given to military combat personnel.
Walking into danger.
Yup, Groberg knows something about that.
Groberg, now 32 and a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, was a guest of Anaheim Fire & Rescue on Saturday for a lunch in the apparatus bay (the fancy term for “garage” in the fire service) of Station 3, in the Anaheim Resort District.
AF&R Chief Randy Bruegman and his wife, Susan, and a dozen-plus firefighters were on hand to honor Groberg, who is in the midst of a cross-country “Outreach Tour” that will stretch into mid-December.
After a lunch of sandwiches and salad and a tour of Station 3, Groberg took a spin around the block in the “tiller bucket” of ladder 3 — the seat at the rear of the apparatus that helps steer it (Groberg was aided by Firefighter Mike Houghton).
After their visit to Station 3. Groberg and his girlfriend, Carsen Zarin, 25, went to Disneyland for an afternoon flag ceremony honoring Groberg, the 10th living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan.
In all, close to 3,500 have received the Medal of Honor for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.
On Saturday, Groberg’s medal rested just below the knot of a blue necktie, which matched the color of his suit.
“This isn’t mine,” Groberg said of the Medal of Honor.
“I just wear it and am hopeful to be a better person because of them (his fallen comrades). I was awarded this medal for doing my job, and my job was to protect (my men).
“I am thankful and honored to receive this, but you need to remember this isn’t a representation of me — it’s a representation of the true heroes who didn’t make it.”
A huge bowl of large red apples — maybe 20 of them.
Groberg remembers wanting to eat one.
That’s mostly what he recalls about his visit with Obama in the Oval Office on Nov. 12, when the president put pen to paper to officially make him a Medal of Honor recipient.
The two didn’t linger on the horrible injuries Groberg endured.
The bomb ripped apart half of his left calf muscle. It damaged an eardrum and caused a mild traumatic brain injury.
Groberg spent two agonizing years recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
He spent another nine months at the hospital until he was discharged this May.
In all, Groberg underwent 33 surgeries.
“That’s nothing,” said Groberg, who ran track at the University of Maryland and at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. “I know guys who’ve had 100 surgeries.”
Groberg no longer can run.
But he realizes how lucky he is to be alive.
“It’s a struggle, but you deal with it,” he says of his injuries. “Life draws you a certain card, and you take it.”
He pauses, thinking of those who lost their lives on Aug. 8, 2012.
“I get to enjoy lunch, sit in a fire truck and spend the day at Disneyland,” Groberg says.
Adriel Martinez, 35, a firefighter paramedic at Station 6, served as a combat medic in the Army as a reserve from 2002 to 2010.
Martinez was deployed to Afghanistan and spent 15 months there from 2007-08.
He met Groberg on Saturday.
“It’s pretty amazing what he did,” Martinez said. “He’s a really great example of a (leader) taking care of his guys.”
Susan Bruegman, vice president of the Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation, praised Groberg, who spoke to veterans in L.A. on Friday.
“I’m so impressed with his humility and ability to see this as an opportunity to help fellow veterans,” Bruegman said. “He actually thinks of everyone else, and that’s what impressed me the most.”
Groberg is a native of Poissy, France. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on Feb. 27, 2001 and entered the Army in July 2008.
He was promoted to captain in July 2012 — a month before the blast that nearly killed him.
Groberg was medically retired from Company B Warriors, Warrior Transition Battalion on July 23, 2015.
He said serving in the military is a great option for young men and women because “they can join the world’s greatest organization.”
But if the military isn’t for them, Groberg said — if they aren’t wired for the Army, Marines or Air Force — do something in the service of others.
“Serve in another way,” he said. “Step out of your cocoon and do something for your community.
“The greatest gift you can ever receive,” Groberg added, “is someone looking at you and telling you, ‘Thank you.’”
Words the firefighters at Station 3 couldn’t say enough Saturday.