Your Military

Sailor injured in attack that killed 2-star keen to redeploy

HONOLULU — Navy Senior Chief Raina Hockenberry was a couple of paces behind Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene on a visit to an Afghan military academy near Kabul when the bullets started to fly.

Hockenberry, a personnel specialist out of U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and senior enlisted leader for Greene, was the only sailor there, but there were other soldiers, including a personal security detachment.

An Afghan soldier fired on the entourage through a bathroom window — hitting the group as it was briefed outside.

"I knew I was hit when I hit the ground," Hockenberry said. "I remember looking around for my guys. I remember hearing that the general was hit. I remember looking right at the general."

Greene, 55, was the first U.S. general officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

Hockenberry was among 16 others who were wounded — taking bullets in the belly and groin. Two rounds shattered her tibia. The Afghan soldier, meanwhile, was killed.

A year after the "green on blue" attack by a supposed ally — the shooting occurred Aug. 5, 2014 — Hockenberry, who grew up on Oahu, remains proud of her Navy service and wants to deploy again in the future, but has been left fighting to keep her leg.

Her experience also highlights the fact that Navy "individual augmentees" — sailors who deploy to fill specific needs — sometimes find themselves in the thick of fighting in a combat zone like Afghanistan.

Pacific Fleet said it had 102 "individual augmentee," or IA, deployments in fiscal 2014, and 92 as of recently this year.

"A lot of people asked, when they see me, 'What happened?'" she said. "I tell them I was injured in Afghanistan, and they find out I'm a sailor, and they are like, 'Wait, the Navy's in Afghanistan?' So I guess a part of it is — the Navy is in Afghanistan, and I'm very proud that the Navy is in Afghanistan."

The injuries from that service overseas are something she continues to struggle with at home, meanwhile.

"The person sitting in this wheelchair is not me — physically, mentally — it's not me," the 37-year-old said.

Before the shooting she was loud and take-charge, she said. One photo from Afghanistan shows her firing a massive .50-caliber Barrett rifle. She was also training for a marathon.

Now she has to focus a lot on salvaging her leg and the long hours of physical therapy that come with it.

"There are days that it's exhausting," she said. "You wake up every day knowing it's the same day. You don't want to get up and go to (physical therapy) and get on that treadmill for a half-hour. You just don't want to do it. But you know you have to."

Hockenberry, the mother of a 17-year-old son, said the difficult journey she continues to endure started with an IA request that came across her desk.

"It's rare for an opportunity for a personnel specialist to go to Afghanistan, and it's rare for a personnel specialist (in the Navy) to be able to serve with the Army, (but deploying) is something I wanted to do," Hockenberry said, adding, "I believed in what we were doing there (from) reading the reports."

At the time of her injury, Hockenberry was Greene's senior enlisted leader with Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. She made a lot of site visits, sometimes by helicopter, sometimes by armored SUV, she said.

Todd Schafer, chief of staff for Pacific Fleet, said he worked daily in Afghanistan with Hockenberry, who "made life better for all of us through her actions to provide a stable work environment in a war zone."

A year after the shooting, Hockenberry talks hesitantly and reluctantly about that day at Marshal Fahim National Defense University.

"It was quick. It was three minutes, four, if that," she said. The shooter "was one of the Afghans we were training, and he shot through a bathroom window, which is how he managed to shoot so much before we got him."

She got up and started moving, and that's when she got shot again, she said. Fourteen coalition personnel from Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States were wounded, along with an Afghan general officer and an interpreter.

"I think you always want it to turn out different. I think that's a natural reaction," Hockenberry said of Greene's death. "Gen. Greene was an amazing man."

Greene, who was deputy commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, was also funny, Hockenberry said.

"I didn't think generals were so funny," she said. "He (also) was the smartest man I ever met."

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF AUG. 29-30, 2015. In this undated photo, Navy Senior Chief Personnel Specialist Raina Hockenberry shows an injury to her leg suffered while fighting in Afghanistan in Honolulu. On Aug. 5, 2014, she accompanied a 2-star general Harold Greene to an Afghan military academy, where an Afghan soldier opened fire, killing the general and wounding Hockenberry, who was next to him. Hockenberry's right tibia was shattered. To avoid amputating, she has a special limb lengthen device. (Dennis Oda/ The Star-Advertiser via AP)
ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF AUG. 29-30, 2015. In this undated photo, Navy Senior Chief Personnel Specialist Raina Hockenberry shows an injury to her leg suffered while fighting in Afghanistan in Honolulu. On Aug. 5, 2014, she accompanied a 2-star general Harold Greene to an Afghan military academy, where an Afghan soldier opened fire, killing the general and wounding Hockenberry, who was next to him. Hockenberry's right tibia was shattered. To avoid amputating, she has a special limb lengthen device. (Dennis Oda/ The Star-Advertiser via AP)

Navy Senior Chief Personnel Specialist Raina Hockenberry shows an injury to her leg suffered while fighting in Afghanistan in Honolulu.

Photo Credit: Dennis Oda/AP

She still wears a metal cage on her injured right leg that's known as a Taylor Spatial Frame and is attached by rods to her bone. Hockenberry went through a grueling process known as limb salvage to regrow 6 inches of formerly missing tibia.

"It's kind of a painful process where we have these screws that are going into my bone and every day I had to turn these struts and it moved through the skin and into the bone, and it moved my bone a millimeter a day," she said.

It took six months for her leg bone to regrow and connect up to where shattered pieces were removed. She just returned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for evaluation.

"They are going to remove this (fixator) and they are going to find out whether the new bone has grown into the old bone, and whether it has hardened enough," Hockenberry said.

If it has, she'll be fitted with a leg brace. If not, then they'll have to amputate, she said.

In the past year, she's done an hour and a half of physical therapy every day, and she credits her therapy at Tripler Army Medical Center for the progress she's made, including some walking.

Right now, she's staying neutral in terms of the prospect of keeping her leg. But her goal, either way, is to deploy again. Her other injuries have "basically healed," she said.

"You know, with the advances they have, either way I'll be able to stay active duty, which is my goal," Hockenberry said. "I plan on running the Honolulu Marathon. I plan on being back in uniform next year. And I plan on deploying again."

Recommended for you
Around The Web
Comments