As Master Chief Raina Hockenberry, the senior enlisted leader for CSTCA (Combinted Security Transition Command Afghanistan) concluded the last briefing of the day, an Afghan soldier opened fire through a window.
She remembers everything from that day in 2014; 13 other soldiers were wounded as well.
After being shot twice in the right leg, shattering her tibia, as well as in the groin and twice in the stomach, the assumption was that she would be medically retired.
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“I can see why,” she said. “But I just didn’t see it. I was severely injured, to the point where medical retirement made sense, but I can’t imagine not serving in the military; it’s part of who we are and my fellow brothers and sisters in the military, we all believe in what we do, and to not stand with them is something that I couldn’t imagine.”
Fast forward four years. In 2018, she won 8 gold medals in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the Warrior games; she now serves on the USS Port Royal, based out of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as the the personnel administrative officer.
In October of 2018, she plans to participate in the Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.
However, her recovery path, while enormously successful, was not an easy one. She was a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for four months. Shortly after her arrival, she asked for a laptop to allow her to continue to work.
“That was huge to me,” Hockenberry said. “The laptop made me stop being a patient and put the power of being a senior chief back [into me]. Through the help of a lot of people, I managed to come back and now I am back on a ship hopefully showing that an injury or an illness doesn’t stop you from continuing.”
Out patient care at Tripler Army Medical Center lasted another six months.
She lost a lot of muscle in her right leg and wears a brace from her knee down to her ankle. It takes the pressure off her tibia. Despite that, she took up rowing, powerlifting, cycling and swimming as part of her recovery regimen.
“You can always do anything,” she said. “You might do it funny, so I definitely do things funny.”
This training is what led her to winning the eight gold medals—two in cycling, two in rowing and four in swimming.
She also set four records. She won two gold medals in cycling, two golds in rowing and four golds in swimming, an event she set four records in as well. Her goal is to win a medal in powerlifting at the upcoming Invictus Games.
Two years ago, in 2016, Hockenberry returned to Afghanistan, participating in Operation Proper Exit—a non-military trip sponsored by the Troops First Foundation. got the chance to return to Afghanistan as part of Operation Proper Exit, a non-military trip sponsored by the Troops First Foundation.
“They take service members who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan back,” Hockenberry said; he was the first female to participate in the program.
While there, she visited 11 different forward-operating bases, including the one where she was based at the time of her shooting, and talked to troops serving there.
“A lot of young troops out there go out there and are like ‘I just want a piece of the action,'” she said. “This is a harsh reality of what that action could be.
“It was a very humbling experience.”
Her future goal is to serve until she is “no longer effective”. “Whether that is three years or four years or 10, as long as I can make a difference every day, and I know I am making a difference every day, and I can serve my country in an operational function — I’m gonna stick around.”
Based on her mindset and amazing recovery, that will likely be well into the future.
QUESTION: Coach, I got severely injured a few years ago. I’m still working out, but I can’t seem to push myself like I used to. There’s always this voice in the back of my mind telling me to be careful. Except I think it’s causing me to be too careful, if that makes sense. Can you help?
ANSWER: Check out this article—Getting Past the Fear of Injury.
QUESTION: I’ve been working out harder lately and I’m seeing some awesome gains. But I’ve also been feeling kind of rundown. I’m not sure I’m recovering the right way. Do you have some tips?
ANSWER: Yes—check out this article, 7 Recovery Tips from Hard Workouts.