When medical crews were working to save Master Chief Petty Officer Raina Hockenberry’s life after she was shot five times while serving in Afghanistan, she heard a doctor evaluating her shattered leg pronounce “unlikely to return to the field.”
In the aftermath, she thought, “I’ll show you.”
Hockenberry, 40, who visited with veterans Friday at the Heroes Cafe at Festival Foods in Kenosha, did return to the field.
She is stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, serving on the USS Port Royal, a missile cruiser.
She also competes in Wounded Warrior adaptive sports, and last year represented the Navy at the Invictus Games in Australia.
Every Friday, the Heroes Cafe offers a chance for local veterans to get together for coffee and fellowship. The space was packed with veterans Friday morning, most of them regulars, most elderly, many wearing baseball caps emblazoned with their branch of service. Veterans stopped to chat with Hockenberry or have their pictures taken with her.
Hockenberry, who grew up as part of a military family, said the service of many older veterans was not appreciated when they fought in conflicts like Vietnam.
“When I came home I was treated like a hero — I’m not — but that is because of what these guys went through,” she said.
Attack in Afghanistan
She was wounded on Aug. 5, 2014, as part of a group accompanying Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the deputy commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, to a training facility for the Afghan military. She had been working on a training mission that had American military personnel training Afghan military.
While at the facility, in what is called a “green on blue” attack, an Afghan soldier opened fire on the assembled group, killing Green and wounding 15 people, including Hockenberry.
She was shot five times, in the leg, hip and abdomen.
Her femoral artery was cut — she was saved from bleeding to death by the skill of medics — and more than six inches of her tibia was destroyed.
Dan Boring, a member of Southern Wisconsin All Airborne Chapter, which raises money for wounded veterans, met Hockenberry in 2014 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
He said she was sitting in a wheelchair, and he started chatting with her.
“I asked her where she was from and she said Kenosha,” he said. “I said ‘no way!’ (and) she showed me her driver’s license.”
Although she grew up mostly in Hawaii, Hockenberry became attached to Kenosha when she was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base more than a decade ago.
She and her husband — also in the Navy — bought a house here. Her son attended boarding school in Oconomowoc.
“We’re thinking of retiring here,” she said.
Although. as a native of Hawaii. she’s not a fan of the cold weather, she said when her family lived here they were struck by the community’s support of the military.
“I’d be driving to work in uniform and I’d stop for coffee and go to pay and they’d say, ‘Someone took care of that for you,’” she said, saying that was a common occurrence here that has seldom happened elsewhere. “Kenosha’s really extraordinary.”
Boring asked if she would come to Kenosha for the group’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dance. She attended that year, and several times since.
This weekend will be her fourth time at the event.
“The first year she came she couldn’t dance,” Boring said.
Determined to serve
Hockenberry spent 15 months in an external frame designed to support her leg and attempted to get her tibia to regrow.
Her entire aim, she said, was to get back to active duty. In the Navy, if you have an above-the-knee amputation you can’t serve on a ship. And she was determined to get back on a ship.
She now wears an external brace that holds her weight, a modified prosthetic that allows her to walk — and to dance.
An athlete before her injury, she said she was initially reluctant to take part in the Wounded Warrior games, reluctant to see herself as wounded.
But she has grown to love the competition — and the spirit of camaraderie and support among the athletes.
She won eight gold medals and set four records while competing in the Wounded Warrior games in 2018, according to the Navy Times.
At the Invictus Games — where she was the only woman representing the U.S. Navy — she competed in cycling, powerlifting and swimming. She won gold in swimming.
Hockenberry said she still encounters people who aren’t quite sure what to think of a female master chief with a serious combat injury and a prosthetic keeping her on her feet.
“I had a TSA agent accuse me of lying once,” she said. “She was an older lady, and she said, ‘Women don’t fight in the military,’ and I said, ‘Yes ma’am, we do now.’”