Mollie Miller Contributing writer
Love can make people do some crazy, unusual, heroic things.
For one 1st Infantry Division soldier, his love for his family and his country led him into an Army recruiter’s office, onto basic training, up the road to Fort Riley, and around the world to Afghanistan.
And then that love led him right to death’s front door.
Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry, 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, joined the Army in the fall of 2010 after a summer full of friends, dirt bikes and post high school graduation parties.
“I always wanted to serve my country, protect our freedom, to keep the life that all the ones I love live safe,” the 19-year-old said recently.
Hockenberry’s enlistment wasn’t much of a surprise for his parents, Chet and Kathy Hockenberry.
“Being a soldier was all Kyle ever talked about, even when he was little,” Kathy said of her youngest son. “I still have all his G.I. Joe guys that he always used to play with because he didn’t want me to get rid of them.”
Kyle graduated from basic training in January 2011 and was assigned to the Big Red One’s 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. “Pale Riders.” The Pale Rider team was already busy making final preparations for a deployment to Afghanistan when Kyle arrived and the new soldier began his own preparations for a mission that would have him leaving Kansas in less than six weeks.
First on Kyle’s list of deployment preparations was a visit to a tattoo shop in Manhattan.
“I had wanted a tattoo for a long time and I wanted to finally get one before we left,” he said.
One evening, shortly before the deployment, Kyle and a few fellow soldiers “went under the needle.” One had his children’s names or birthdates tattooed, some had a lucky number or special picture done but Kyle selected a seven word phrase that had been rolling around in his head ever since he decided he was going to be a soldier.
That night, the tattoo artist etched “for those I love, I will sacrifice” onto Kyle’s right side.
“I thought since I was in the military that it would be a good one to get,” he said. “‘Those I love’ is for everyone — for my parents, my brother and all my family but it really for everyone in the country.”
Kyle left for Afghanistan in February 2011. Less than four months later, during a June 15 patrol outside of Haji Ramuddin, he was forced into a better understanding of sacrifice.
“We were in a firefight in Haji Ramuddin and I don’t know if I was trying to move into cover or something but I stepped on a pressure plate (improvised explosive device),” he said. “I don’t remember anything after that for a long time.”
The blast cost Kyle both legs and his left arm. It cost Spc. Nick Hensley his life.
“I received a phone call at work on June 15 and the caller said Kyle had been seriously wounded in Afghanistan and that we would get another call later with more information,” Chet said. “Every call, they kept telling us that they were right by his side doing everything they could for him. They were dedicated 100 percent to getting him home to us and we are very appreciative of what everyone did for Kyle.”
Getting Kyle home to his family was no easy task. Kathy said medics “lost” her son several times on the battlefield and in the medical evacuation helicopter. Kyle’s kidneys and liver failed and Army representatives prepared Chet and Kathy for a trip to Germany as they didn’t think Kyle would survive the flight back to the states. But then Kyle stabilized and the Army transported him to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The young infantryman has been there ever since. Kathy said the recovery and rehabilitation process has been challenging but her son has shown an amazing strength in the face of some great tests.
“I’m not surprised though,” she said. “Kyle has always been very tough.”
If it weren’t for people like Kyle and his fellow soldiers who sacrifice so much, the country would be in pretty bad shape, according to Chet.
“We are just so proud of them and all their service,” he said. “They are all heroes in our eyes.”
Although many pieces of the future remain uncertain, Kyle is sure of one thing — if the Army will have him, he wants to stay on active duty and do whatever he can to continue to help his brothers and sisters in uniform.
“I want him to be happy,” Kathy said. “Whatever he chooses to do, I just want him to be happy.”
For now, Kyle is looking forward to being fitted for his prosthetics and getting healthy enough so his doctors will clear him to travel to Fort Riley in April to attend the 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. Welcome Home Ball.
“If everything is good, I plan to be there,” he said.
As far as his mom is concerned, this is certainly a goal easily within her son’s reach.
“If there was ever something out there you told him he couldn’t do, he would tell you he could . and then he would do it,” Kathy said. “Kyle wants to be at that ball and if he has anything to say about it, he will be at that ball.”
For Lt. Col. Michael Katona, commander of 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt., having the 19-year-old soldier who has served as an inspiration to so many at the ball would be an honor.
“He is still part of this squadron,” he said. “He will always be part of our family.”
The writer is assigned to the 1st Infantry Division’s Public Affairs Office.