Join Tom Sileo ’01 at a book signing at the Rutgers Barnes and Noble on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.!
“8 Seconds of Courage” focuses on a defining moment in Medal of Honor Recipient Florent “Flo” Groberg’s life as a soldier in Afghanistan in August 2012. It was the second Groberg noticed a suicide bomber approaching a group of people he was entrusted to protect, and the 8 seconds it took for him to sprint into the danger and tackle the bomber. In that flash of time, the bomb detonated – 4 people were killed and Flo suffered devastating injuries. But he saved the lives of many others, becoming, as Sileo describes, the “first immigrant to receive the military's highest decoration since the Vietnam War.”
“Every single day, brave men and women in uniform are serving in faraway places because they want to help others,” Sileo said. “They are doing so not to seek fame or notoriety, but because they genuinely care about our country and liberty, both for Americans and other nations. Captain Flo Groberg's journey from growing up in France to having our nation's highest military decoration placed around his neck by President Obama at the White House is a story that can help unify all Americans during these troubled times. I hope you find his story as inspirational as I do.”
In the Q&A below, Sileo describes how and why Groberg’s life and act of heroism is so inspiring, how he met Groberg, and what it was like to collaborate with Groberg on the book. Sileo also explains how his Rutgers education prepared him for his career as an author, and as a former copy editor at CNN and news producer at WTVM-TV in Columbus, GA, WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, SC, and Tribune Broadcasting in Washington, D.C. Sileo also offers advice and tips for all aspiring writers at Rutgers.
To meet Sileo and Groberg, join them at a book signing for “8 Seconds of Courage” at the Barnes & Noble-Upper West Side, 2289 Broadway, New York, NY, on Monday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.
Q&A with Tom Sileo '01
How did you meet Flo Groberg?
Like millions of fellow Americans, I watched on TV as Flo received the Medal of Honor in an emotional November 2015 White House ceremony. A few months later, I decided to reach out to Flo on Twitter, not knowing whether he would see my message or reply. I am very grateful that he did. Before I knew it, I was flying up to Washington, D.C., to have dinner with Flo and his then-girlfriend (now fiancee), Carsen Zarin.
What have you found most inspiring about Flo and his incredible sacrifice?
Flo's commitment to honoring the fallen is second to none. From our very first meeting, Flo emphasized how important it was that 8 Seconds of Courage highlight the stories of Command Sergeant Maj. Kevin Griffin, Maj. Tom Kennedy, Maj. David Gray, and USAID Foreign Service Officer Ragaei Abdelfattah, who were killed in the Aug. 8, 2012, suicide attack that also wounded Flo. While doing research, I had the opportunity to speak with the wives of the three fallen U.S. service members (the Abdelfattah family lives overseas) about their husbands and the way they helped everyone around them. As someone who has spent the past eight years writing about our nation's fallen heroes, having the opportunity to help Flo, Pamela Griffin, Kami Kennedy, and Heather Gray honor these departed warriors was the most rewarding part of this experience.
Has he fully recovered from his injuries and what is he doing now?
Flo suffered severe injuries to his left leg that nearly led to amputation. We go into great detail about his long journey to recovery, which involved several years in and out of Walter Reed and dozens of surgeries, in 8 Seconds of Courage. We also discuss that despite being able to walk and lightly jog five years later, Flo isn't able to run, which had been one of his greatest passions in life. In fact, Flo was a former cross country runner at our Big Ten rival, the University of Maryland. Ironically, Flo's final eight second sprint to reach the suicide bomber is what helped save the lives of so many members of his patrol in Afghanistan.
Flo is now the Director of Veterans Outreach at Boeing. He is also a prolific public speaker and advocate for veterans and families of the fallen, and works with many prominent charities to help the military community. I am in awe of his fierce commitment to using his Medal of Honor to make a positive difference in our post-9/11 society.
Why did Flo join the Army?
Flo was born in France and his mother is of Algerian descent. When Flo was a boy, his Uncle Abdou was murdered by Islamic terrorists while serving in the Algerian Army. Flo’s journey to military service started with his uncle's tragic murder and was cemented during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which happened while Flo was in college here in the United States.
Another critical element to Flo's story is that he is the first immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. In the book, Flo explains that one of his reasons for joining the Army was wanting to earn his place as an American and also to give back to the country that had provided him with so much opportunity since his arrival. His willingness to sacrifice should motivate us all to be better citizens and more understanding of one another. As Americans, we are all in this together.
What is the most important message you would like readers to take away from the book?
When Flo realized a suspicious individual stumbling toward his patrol on Aug. 8, 2012, was wearing a suicide vest, he knew he was going to die. Yet he continued pushing the terrorist away from his fellow soldiers in order to protect them from the blast. This is the definition of heroism. Yet if you were interviewing Flo right now, he would almost certainly tell you that he was just doing his job, and that the real heroes of that day were the four men who didn't make it home to their families.
What I hope readers – including Rutgers students – take away from 8 Seconds of Courage is that there is an entire community of selfless Americans who are willing to sacrifice everything for people they've never even met. Whether it's troops in Afghanistan, veterans, their families, or loved ones of fallen heroes, these are truly extraordinary people from all walks of life. Meeting and working with warriors like Flo and Gold Star family members like the Griffins, Kennedys, and Grays has been the greatest honor of my life, and I hope to continue spotlighting their stories of sacrifice for the rest of my career.
What did you major in at SC&I (and what year did you graduate?) and how has your Rutgers education contributed to your success as an author?
I majored in Journalism and Mass Media in 2001 -- the last SC&I class to graduate before the 9/11 attacks. What I learned from Steve Miller and the many other great professors and faculty members at RU has been indispensable throughout my career. The opportunity to complete internships at NBC Sports in New York and the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. also played a key role in getting a head start on what would wind up being the early part of my career at two local TV stations and ultimately CNN headquarters in Atlanta. While I no longer work in the television news business, what I learned at Rutgers about the importance of accurate, fair reporting is a tool I use on a daily basis as an author and writer.
Did you convince him to write his story with your help or did he approach you as a co-author?
I asked Flo to consider working with me and sent him a copy of my first book, Brothers Forever, which I wrote with a Gold Star father about his son and a close friend, both of whom were killed in action. I also told Flo about a second book I was working on, Fire in My Eyes, which I was writing with a U.S. Navy veteran who was blinded on the battlefield. Flo was seriously injured in Afghanistan and lost four friends in the suicide bombing that nearly took his life. Because I had written about these sensitive, difficult realities of war in previous books and columns, Flo and I felt that working together would be a good fit. I am so thankful for Flo's trust in agreeing to let me help him tell this important story.
How did you work together to write the book?
I spent about six months in the Washington, D.C. area, where Flo lives and I grew up, while working on our book proposal and writing the actual book. Most of the time, I would visit Flo at his D.C. condo and talk in great detail with him and Carsen about each chapter. Then, I would write a rough draft of the given chapter based on our discussions before sending it to Flo and Carsen, who would offer many additions, suggestions, corrections, and insights. I am very grateful to Flo and Carsen for their patience and commitment to telling this amazing story in such a responsible, accurate manner.
What advice do you have to current SC&I and Rutgers students who are interested in writing? What’s the best way to get started and be successful as a writer?
Find what you are passionate about and go "all in." There really is no other blueprint for success, especially in an industry that is evolving so rapidly. I left CNN and launched a blog called The Unknown Soldiers in early 2010. While I wasn't being paid to write about the sacrifices of our troops and their families in the beginning, my blog wound up leading to a one-year journalism fellowship, a nationally syndicated column, and eventually my first book. Sometimes you have to take risks in order to have the privilege of writing about what you feel is truly important.
Has your career revolved around writing or have you had an additional career as well?
I was a news producer at WTVM-TV in Columbus, GA, WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, SC, and Tribune Broadcasting in Washington, D.C. My wife and I then moved to Atlanta, where we worked at CNN and HLN, respectively. We now live in Delray Beach, FL, where I work as an author and contributing senior editor for “The Stream” while my wife is communications manager for a retirement community.
Do you have another book project in mind now that this book is due to be published in November?
I am blessed to work with a wonderful literary agent, E. J. McCarthy, who is constantly helping (and pushing) me toward finding the very best book project. That exciting process is unfolding as we speak.
How did writing this book compare with writing your other two books? Does writing get any easier?
Great question. Working on all three books has been challenging and rewarding, but 8 Seconds of Courage was probably the most difficult in terms of the writing since it is told from the perspective of a soldier in battle. Having never served in uniform, it is impossible for me to understand what it is actually like to be under fire or come face to face with a suicide bomber who wants to kill you. Fortunately, Flo was very patient with me and constantly helped (along with his fiancée, Carsen, and our editor, Bob Bender) to make the battle scenes both accurate and riveting. Writing about such visceral, emotional subject matter never gets easier, and for good reason.