On August 5, 2014, Master Chief Raina Hockenberry, 41, was a senior chief midway through a deployment in Afghanistan. She was helping train Afghan forces. While leaving an Afghan military camp in Kabul, a rogue Afghan gunman opened fire. Hockenberry sustained bullet wounds in her stomach, groin, and tibia. This is where the story could’ve ended Hockenberry’s military career. But Hockenberry’s running life theme is never giving up.
Hockenberry celebrates after winning gold in the 50 meter freestyle at the 2018 DoD Warrior Games.
(Master Sgt. Stephen D. Schester)
According to The Navy Times, while she recovered at Walter Reed medical center she immediately asked for a laptop so she could continue to contribute.
“Being in the hospital, you’re a patient and you lose who you are. That laptop was huge. It gave me my identity back. It gave me something to focus on. I was useful again.” Hockenberry said, “My identity was Senior Chief Hockenberry.”
Hockenberry doesn’t take all the credit for staying engaged during the early stages of her recovery process. She extended her gratitude to the junior enlisted service members surrounding her at Walter Reed, “Every time I wanted to quit, there always seemed to be some junior sailor popping in saying, ‘Hey senior, you going to PT?”
One of the injuries sustained by Hockenberry.
(Dennis Oda/The Star)
Despite the complications from her injuries sustained in battle, Hockenberry takes part (and kicks ass) in multiple athletic competitions. Such as the Invictus Games, or the Warrior Games (a competition for wounded, sick, or injured troops). Just last year she set 4 new swimming records en route to 8 gold medals in the latter.
She will be returning with high hopes again this year.
Hockenberry receiving the George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award at 53rd USO Armed Forces Gala.
(Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Lewis)
Nowadays, when Hockenberry isn’t dominating the Warrior Games, she serves on board of the USS Port Royal, in Hawaii—and she’s grateful to be back.
“Today, I’m just another sailor,” She added, “Granted, I’m a master chief and that’s awesome, but I do drill, I do general quarters, I’m up and down ladder wells. I do what every other sailor does.”
Hockenberry serves as a beacon for other service-members who are battling injuries every single day. Hockenberry’s advice is simple, “You’ve got to fight for what you want,” she said. “If you really want it, there’s so many in the Navy who will help you, you just have to ask.”
She acknowledges the road to recovery is not linear, and that while injuries change how you interact with the world, they do not define the afflicted, “”You don’t have to be perfect. I don’t walk perfect, I sure don’t swim perfect. But that’s okay […] The four gentlemen I went with have all been through the gamut and now have productive lives. It’s just an injury. It’s not your life.”
Hockenberry set up “Operation Proper Exit” in 2016 as a way to bring soldiers wounded in action back to the place where they sustained their injuries, in order to give soldiers proper closure.
Hockenberry will be honored as the Sailor of the Year at the Service Members of the Year ceremony on July 10th.