Florent Groberg shares his life story—life in France and the US. He shares important milestones in his life that led him into the military. He also talks about the day he tackled a suicide bomber, saving the life of his men and suffering a leg injury.
- So, I was born in France in 1983. I never actually met my father, my biological father. My mom, she was French Algerian, she worked in business at the time. We lived in Paris, it was great. But just something was missing at the time, and I didn't have a dad, that was a big thing growin' up. But I was lucky enough that my mother met a man called Larry Groberg, from of all places, Gary, Indiana.
He was a business man and he was out there in Paris doin' some work, and he got to go out on a date with my mother, and somehow magically fell in love with her. At that point, he sort of became my father figure. My mom married him a couple years later, and he made a decision that he wanted to go back to the United States and finish his out his career, 'cause he was always traveling all over the place. When I was 11 years-old, you know that was a big move that we made. Yeah, he said "You guys, we're going to go out there to "the United States and, you know, "it's going to be a little bit different, "but you're going to have a great opportunity "to find success there." And so, when you're 11, 10, 11 years-old, you don't get it.
I was excited, I was super excited. I was goin' to the big land of yellow buses, and where Michael Jordan lived. Growin' up with an American father he made sure to instill all these little American values, specifically the sporting aspect of 'em. So, I was excited. You know, all the TV shows and Hollywood was there, so I wanted to go. But the problem is, I didn't speak English. So, when we got to Palatine, Illinois, he had a very different way of challenging me. In his world to find success you need to put yourself out there.
When I was 11 years-old, that putting yourself out there meant go out there and play, even though you don't speak the language, go make friends. Go mingle around. But that to me was not really feasible, I didn't understand the way of the land here, because I grew up in a city, and now I'm in the suburbs where there's stop signs, and there's cars everywhere, and you can't walk specifically to the grocery store, you have to drive there.
We didn't have a car! We took the Metro, and we took the bus, and we walked everywhere. So, this was a little bit different. But a good story he told me was, that I had with him is he told me to go out there to go to the pool. And he gave me directions, he says "Go down this street, make a right at the stop sign. "And there's going to be another stop sign, make a left, "you'll see a big building, it's called the pool." A piscine in French. And here's a card, walk in there, and just go have fun. So I did, I followed his instructions, and I went out there without speaking a lick of English.
Gave that little card, and then somehow started playin' around in the water with some kids. They thought it was funny I couldn't speak their language, and I just thought it was odd that I technically could communicate with them without speakin' a single word. So, that was sort of like the mindset that he had for me in terms of challenging me to learn a language, and be a man. Fast forward a couple years, we moved to Bethesda, Maryland, I finished up my middle school and went to high school.
I was in ESL, English as a Second Language, ESL courses, in 8th grade. By freshman year in high school I was in regular English classes. By sophomore year, I was in honor's English classes. And that's because, it's not because I was smart, it's because I didn't have a choice. I was put into an environment where I had to learn quickly, and I had a father figure that challenged me every single day to learn quickly. But what I had at the time was the mindset of a 15 year-old when I got to sophomore year.
I thought I knew everything, and I thought I was better than my parents, and I didn't want to be, you know, I didn't want to listen to 'em. So, he challenged me and he got me to a certain point, and I kind of reached that sort of plateau in my own head that I was just, you know, I knew it all, and I got this. And that transferred into my social life, and my sporting experiences. I was a soccer player, and I was a good soccer player. I was pretty good on the team and it's a team sport, but a sport where you can really excel as an individual, and people can notice you.
But my mom challenged me to go out there and play another sport. Challenge is not the right word, she forced me to go out there and play another sport. She told me to go to run track. I wanted to play basketball, but I got cut, because I was an awful basketball player, and I was also 5'1". But she said "I want you to go out there and run track." So, I followed her instructions and I went out for the track team, and I hated it. I just didn't understand why, or how anyone could enjoy running around an oval track, and be in so much pain.
It made absolutely no sense. Specifically when it's the middle of winter. But I didn't have a choice. And that was sort of like the mindset of my family, go out there and do things. Push yourself, even if you don't like it. Even if it's uncomfortable, go do it. In this case, they put food on the table, and they housed me and they were takin' care of me, so this was my duty and I had to go out there and join a track team and follow their directions. But I was never into it, I was a lazy runner.
I never really did all the workouts. I didn't really listen to the coaches 'cause I didn't want to be there, I just wanted the season to go by, get through the summer and then go back into soccer season. But that changed. Why? Because I had outstanding coaches. And Coach Tom Martin, and Coach Rogers. What they did, they challenged me in a completely different way. It's almost like they studied me and took the time to figure out how I reacted to certain situations, and how I was motivated by certain different things.
And they came up with a plan, and unbeknownst to me, that plan worked. It all started that sophomore year and spring season when we're supposed to go run, there was a track meet at Sherwood High School, and only the top three athletes in each event could go. So, when they called out the names for the mile, which was my event, they didn't call my name out. I didn't understand why, considering the fact I was the 3rd best runner on the team.
So, I asked. "Hey Coach, you must of messed up here because "I had the 3rd best time, "and I should be running in this meet." My coach looked at me and said, "No, you had the 4th best time." And now I got angry, I said "No, I had the 3rd best time, you're wrong." Coach looked at his clipboard, looked back at me he's like, "Why do you care, Flo? "It doesn't matter, you don't even want to be here." I said, "Well, it's the principle. "I had the 3rd best time, you said the top three, "I need to be on that bus to go to that meet." He kind of shook his head and looked at me and said, "Well look Flo, we already sent the entries.
"But what we'll do is we'll take you on the bus, "and if we can get an extra spot in the race, "we'll put you in there." I was livid, I was furious! That was my spot that they took away from me. I was entitled to go run that race, or so I thought as a 15 year-old. So, I went home angry, told my parents, and my parents had no reaction to it 'cause they knew I was acting selfish. And so, they just kind of looked at me and shook their heads and said, "Well, why don't you just go out there "and see what happens." All right, I did.
The next day we went to Sherwood High School and when we got there, they told me that I had been accepted into the race. So, I entered the race and I was, again, still livid! I mean, I'm angry at this point. It's like how dare you tell me I'm not supposed to me in this race? All right, well you got me in the race, fine, my revenge time. So, I asked my coach, "Who's the fastest runner here?" And he told me about this man called Robbie Shrestha, this kid at the time. You know, 6'4", 6'5", Native American, big necklace, I'll never forget, around his neck, and he would scream right before the races.
So, like he did before every race he screamed at the sound of the gun, scared the heck out of me, and right off the bat I was in last place. But I had a mission, and that mission at that point was to prove my coaches wrong, 'cause they had wronged me in this case. I just stuck behind Robbie for the entire race, and I tried to pass him the last 20 meters, but I didn't and he won the race, but I finished 2nd. In that specific race, I had run a personal best by plus 30 seconds.
I went from an unknown to one of the new better runners in the entire county. And as I walked off the track, I remember tryin' to find my coach just to kind of put a finger in his face and say "Told you so." And when I found him, before I said anything he looked at me and said "Good race." And walked past, and I didn't get it. I thought that was so rude. Did you not watch what I just did? Did you not appreciate what I just did? Can you not take responsibility for almost not taking me to this meet? It was all I, I, I, I, me, me, me, me, me.
And I kind of, nobody said anything to me, it was weird, not even my teammates. And I realized when I went to sleep that night that I one, really enjoyed almost winning that race! And so, I kind of got excited thinkin' like wow, holy crap, like I could actually technically be one of the better runners in this county, and potentially in the state. And I realized what had happened, it was almost like it clicked. It clicked that, wait, time out.
My coaches, I think they believed in me, and the reaction that they had, it wasn't disrespect, it was kind of wait, you're good. But you're not doin' anything, you're not listening to us. You're not bein' a team player, it's all about you, and you just act with such negative, you know, in your heart right now, that you are failing yourself, and everybody around you. It changed my life. The 48-hour period changed my life, it changed my foundation as a kid and growin' into a man.
I made a decision at that point that I was no longer going to be a me-type of guy, and I was going to listen. And I was going to follow the instruction, and I was going to work hard. I was never skip any repeats in my training. Never skip any days when I'm supposed to be running, instead I go play other sports. I was going to be out there and be a team player, make sure that my teammates trust me, and I'd do everything to earn their trust. So that when we ran relays and they gave me the baton, they knew that I was going to fight to the hardest of my abilities for them.
And that was the sophomore year. By the time I was 16 years-old, in junior year, I was one of the better runners in the state, and we were one of the best teams in the state. I was the team captain, I even got the Sportsmanship Award, which was a pretty big deal considering a year before that I think everybody hated me. But, you know, it was because my coaches went in an unconventional way, in terms of challenging me. They had tried everything, but I was very resistant. I didn't want to hear it, I thought I knew best, I was a teenager.
I was, you know, a little brat. But they never quit on me, and they kept pushing, and they took the long route. They knew eventually they were going to get to me, and they weren't scared to put in the time. And when I understood that, it was one of those life lessons that I took with me, that I still take to this day. To never quit on anyone. To listen to them and come up with a better plan if your plan initially fails. Have a contingency plan for them.
I took that and I went into college with that same mindset. And I love to talk about sports because sports really shaped who I am today. That's where I had a lot of life lessons, but a lot of failures. That's where I learned how to overcome adversity at first, these were my first experiences with that. As a freshman at the University of Maryland I ran in the 10,000 meter championship races at the ACC Championship Races in Virginia.
There I was in the 10,000 meters. I had never been defeated mentally before the way I was defeated in that race. The first mile, we went through it in four minutes and 45 seconds. And at the time, for me that was pretty fast, 'cause I had another 5.2 miles to go around this oval track. And I will never forget, the Florida State guy, and the Clemson guy, and the NC State guy, all talkin' about what kind of food they had at the banquet the day prior.
In the back of my head I thought these guys are running that fast and it's like they don't even feel it, they're talkin' about food. I'm dying here, literally. My legs hurt, my breathing is to the roof, my heart hurts, and now these guys are talkin' about this? I'm not good enough, and mentally I quit. I was lapped three times in that race. Heck, the last time they lapped me, I was goin' into my second to the last lap, but people started clapping, because they thought I was finishing the race.
But when they saw that I kept continuing and running, you know you heard like the claps went from claps to ooh. That's embarrassing! So, I had a decision to make at the end of that day. I remember sitting in my hotel room thinkin', maybe this is not for me, and what happened today was so embarrassing that it'll be hard for me to even show my face the next day. And so I thought maybe I just wasn't meant for this sport, or maybe, I needed to change something.
And so, I decided to go with plan B. Why? Because I grew up with the name Groberg, and that name Groberg means never quit. You never quit anything that you start, and that's what my dad taught me. So, instead of comin' home that summer, I called my father and I called my mother, and them that I was going to move to Colorado, I was going to go out there and train. I was going to run with best and the fastest man in this country.
The Dathan Ritzenhein, the Jorge Torres. Why? Because I wanted to go out there and find out what it took to reach that next level. I couldn't go any lower. But I wanted to challenge myself, and I wanted to pick the brains of the most successful athletes in my sport in this country. So, I drove across the country, I'll never forget, with no air conditioning. I found a place to rent for cheap.
I got a job where I swept streets for $9.00 an hour. And I followed these guys day and night, twice a day I would run. And by the end of that summer, I wasn't that freshman that was lapped three times, I was a completely different athlete. And to me, that really taught me something about myself. Without realizing it, but years later, when I come back and look at it, I did not accept defeat, and I was willing to put in the work.
I was willing to sacrifice and go out there and do the right things. But really, the biggest thing was, I wanted to be around successful people. I understood that for me to be successful, I needed to surround myself with people who have done it, who were doin' it at the time, and pick their brains. Find out their story and their journey, why and how they got to that point, 'cause I wanted to be there, too. And obviously, along my own journey at that point, I'd reached heights that I was very proud of.
My goodness, my failures were as high as well. And so, I wanted to fix that, and that as a 19 year-old, was a big deal. And I followed through those lessons and I used 'em in college, and I was a good runner in college, good runner. But, you know I knew that was never going to be my calling. I loved it, I enjoyed it, it gave me a foundation, it helped me find out who I was, and it gave me some characteristics to follow the rest of my life. But, since I was 12 years-old, what I wanted to do was serve my country.
And it started at 12 because that's when my uncle was killed by a terrorist organization called the GIA in Algeria. See, my mom is French-Algerian, and he was her brother. He was a Muslim, he was an Imam, which is a preacher. And when radical Islamics came into Algeria to take over the government, he said "This is not the faith that I am following, "and what you're saying and preaching is evil." And he stood up against tyranny.
He joined the army, came to the United States and was trained by Special Forces. Came back, was a commando, and served his country. Well in 1996, in February 1996, he was, during a cease-fire, his patrol was attacked. And they shot him, and killed him, then they beheaded him, dismembered him, put him in baskets and sent it to my mom's family. I didn't know this story, the specific details of the story as a 12 year-old, I just knew at the time that they had killed my uncle.
It was years later while in college I had found out about the atrocities. But that day when my mom walked into my room to tell me that my uncle had been killed, my favorite person in the world by the way, I remember I took all my GI Joes, my little soldiers, and I put all of 'em in a bag and I took 'em to the trash, and threw 'em there. And my mom looked at me and she was still obviously very emotionally distraught from what had happened to her brother, and she said "Why did you just do that?" And I told her "The next time I play soldier "is the day that I wear the uniform and I go find "those people who did this to my uncle." 12 years-old.
But ya got to remember, I was young, I was emotional as well, and I knew I wanted to join the services, I still had a while before that happened. And I'm not going to lie to you, that service was not as high in the back of my mind when I got into college. I knew that's what I was going to do eventually, but I was okay with serving after my college time. And yet, within the first couple of weeks of going into college, 911 happened.
And that's when I got really pissed off, that's when I got really mad. That's when everything changed, that was the catalyst to my military career, because when I was 12 years-old they took my uncle. Now I am in my adopted country where an American named Larry Groberg officially adopted me and gave me his name, which had led me to being naturalized in 2001. And I'm here in college, living the American dream, and some evil people come into my new country to bring tyranny and kill 3,000 people? That was it, that's when I signed on the dotted line, and I knew what my path would lead to, and I called my father to tell him that I was going to drop out of school, and go and join the United States Army, specifically to become an Army Ranger.
And my dad listened to me, and then he told me one specific thing. He said "You're a Groberg, "and I told you this already, Flo, "when you start something, you finish it. "You're in school, get your degree, "as soon as you get your degree, "I expect you to go out there and serve your country. "I expect you to make a difference for your country. "But right now, if you quite on this right now, today, "you will quit on other things in the future.
"You will quit when you think that another path "could lead to something better." And I didn't understand, this is not about better, this me serving my country. He's like, "Stick to what you are, "and what we are. "Stick to the way I've taught you. "Finish school and I promise you, "you will be able to serve your country honorably, "and you will feel fulfilled with that mission." And it took a few days again, but he was my dad, he was the most influential person I had I my life, and I trusted him.
And so I said, "Okay dad, "but as soon as I'm done, I'm going." He said, "Okay." And I finished my school years. One of the last things he had told me prior to hangin' up the phone he said, "Don't worry about this country, "this is the greatest country in the world, "we have the greatest people in the world, "and Americans are going to step up, "and make sure that we destroy this evil in our world." I said "All right." So, I finished school, got my degree.
And in 2006 I tried to join the United States Army. I tried to enlist, I went through the whole process, met with a recruiter, signed the pieces of paperwork, get the physical, went took the background check and a test. Along the way though, something happened. They told me that I was still French 'cause I had dual citizenship, and I had to go renounce my French citizenship. So, I asked 'em, "How do I do that?" Well my recruiter told me "Why don't you just go to the French Embassy "and tell them you don't want to be French anymore." I said "Okay." Sounded pretty simple, so I did.
I went to the French Embassy and I told 'em "Listen here's the situation. "I want to join the United States Army, "I want to serve my country in a time of war, "but unfortunately, they won't let me do that "because I'm still French." And the lady that I spoke to asked me "Why don't you just join the French Army?" Well, I had to be very tactful at the time, because I knew that this lady had the power to keep me French. So, I didn't really want to make her mad, so I took a deep breath, and I thought about my response, and I told her "Again ma'am, if I was living in France today, "I would be joining the French Army.
"But the reality is, my dad is American, "I've been living in this country for 15 years, "and I want to join the United States Army. "I want to join my friends." And she said "Okay, no problem." She signed a piece of paper, I signed a piece of paper, and she said, "We're going to send this to France, "you should be gettin' a letter real soon." That was it, I left the French Embassy thinkin' maybe a week or two before I got a response. But like everything in life, things sometimes just don't come that easy, and it took 18 months before I received my letter.
Well, you still got to make a living, right? I couldn't follow my dream at that specific moment so I did everything that I could to make sure that I set myself up for success in between. And I worked, I did odd jobs. I sold nuts and bolts, and power tools for Fastenal. After that I sold Voice-over-IP phone line systems for a company called I-Corps Networks, who worked with SISCO Systems. And I was patient, I didn't like it.
No, I wanted to be in the Army, I wanted to be servin' my country. But, I didn't have the letter. Then one day it came. And when it came I went to the recruiter's office as fast as I could, I told him "I'm ready to join, please send me now." And they said "Take a deep breath, "We got to go through the process again. "You're going to have to do the physical, "and the tests and stuff, but you're good to go." And I did, and that's when I joined the Army, on July 8th.
July 1st, 2008, in Fort Benning, Georgia. I just, remember specifically thinkin' to myself wow, I been thinkin' about this for so long, for the last 13 years, and I was finally there. But boy oh boy was that a transition! You know, everything that you knew about life, how to eat, walk, even tie your shoes sometimes, dress, your clothes, speak, they had a different way for me, and I loved it! I just loved the fact that every single day I got to wear the same stuff, and everybody else around me wore the same stuff.
We had the same mindset, the same team. And... I was part of the world's most important and honorable foundation and organization, the biggest fraternity of all, in my mind. And so I did Basic Training and Officer Candidate School, then Basic Officer Leadership Course, then I went through the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course. Then I got my bars, then I had my rifles, my cross rifles, as an Infantryman.
And right after school, I went to Airborne School, and then to the ultimate school called Ranger School, which spent 60-plus days of my life and regretting that decision, until I got my tab and then I was the happiest person in the world. And the next thing you know, I end up in Afghanistan, just like that. And when I got to Afghanistan, I will never forget it, here I was sitting in December of 2009 in FOB Joyce, Eastern Province, Kunar, Afghanistan.
And I have a man lookin' at me, a Colonel, tellin' me "This is your platoon, "that's 24 men under your command, "make sure you do the right thing as a leader." And I remember freakin' out. Things had happened so quick. This dream that I had for so long, happened and now the reality came with it. And the reality in this case was I was a platoon leader, and I had a platoon, and I was responsible for the lives of 24 incredible Americans.
My decision-making process, the way I composed myself, the way I acted, and who I was as a human being, could potentially influence their lives to a point where they don't come home. And I was scared, I was really, really scared. But I knew there was only one way for me to find success, and it wasn't going to come from me specifically, it was going to come from that support system.
And I found that man, which was my number two, Sgt. 1st Class Korey Staley, and I asked, and I told him as a man, and I asked him "Help me." But I told him "Sergeant, I am as green as it gets, "which means that I have no experience, "and you guys have been in combat already this tour, "and you have many years of experience in prior deployments. "For me to be successful as the platoon leader of this team, "I need you to guide me and teach me "how to be that right leader, "'cause that's all that matters to me, "is to make sure that I make the right decisions "for all of our men to come home." And he was so appreciative of that, and he told me to shut up for the next seven days, that we were going to go out on patrol, and that we were going to face enemy contact, and to listen to the way that he communicated with the platoon, or the platoon communicated with him internally.
To listen to the way we communicated with the base, or the birds, helicopters, or airplanes. The way our fire missions were called. Then he told me to watch the way my team reacted to contact, how we positioned ourselves. After that he said "Learn everything that you can about this place, "all their target reference points, "all the historical battles, "all the villages that you're going to be in charge. "And then go talk to the men. "Understand why they joined the Army. "If they're married, if they have kids, "if they have brothers and sisters, where they're from.
"But don't get too friendly, "'cause you're still the leader. "And after seven days, you and I are going to sit back down "and we're going to discuss everything that happened. "You're going to have questions, I'm going to have answers. "We're going to come up with a plan together, "then we're going to brief that plan to our squad leaders. "Our squad leaders are going to listen, "they're going to have their own questions, and inputs. "We're going to listen to those questions and inputs, "and if those inputs make sense, "we're going to plug them into the final plan. "Then you're going to brief that to the rest of the platoon." He's like "Sir, you give me seven days, "I'll get you a platoon." That was it, seven days, that's all it took, and he gave me that platoon.
I tell you what, 200-plus engagements later, all my men came home. And that's what mattered to me. That was by far the greatest accomplishment I was involved with. 'Cause it wasn't just me as a leader, it was Staley, it was Moffett, it was Waite, it was Richardson, it was DiMente, it was Molden. All the leaders within my own platoon who worked hand-in-hand had to make sure that the Jones, Amanjour, the Stacey's, the Johnsons, got to come home.
The second tour was not the same.
Discover how to understand your strengths and value, where your skills fit into today's job market, and how to translate your experience into a solid resume. Learn how a mentor can help you navigate the transition and open up new opportunities. With Flo's advice, you can find a new purpose and continue the journey you started in the military—bringing your talents to bear on a whole new mission in life.
- Taking initiative
- Understanding your value
- Translating your experiences
- Building your resume
- Using a mentor
- Setting realistic expectations
- Building a network
- Transitioning into a new job
- Bonus videos featuring stories of transition from veterans