News: VMM-161 Marine earns Purple Heart
Story by Lance Cpl. Raquel Barraza
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – Between the swirling dust and debris and the thunder of the twin rotors, quick MV-22 Osprey landings in Afghanistan are tricky. They are even trickier when the enemy adds bullets to the mix.
“I felt like someone hit me with a two-by-four,” said Cpl. Benjamin Hockett, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 and a Lander, Wyo., native.
Hockett was manning the gun on the back of his Osprey, providing protection for the Australian troops he and the rest of the aircrew were pulling out of the Afghan desert.
A 7.62mm round ripped into his right arm, nearly taking it off completely. Even though he was injured, Hockett’s only reaction was to try to return fire.
“[An insurgent] is shooting at us,” said Hockett. “I have to shoot back at him.”
In the chaos of the flight, Hockett didn’t realize that his arm was stuck to his back, held there only by the remaining skin.
“I tried to shoot back, but I couldn’t find my arm,” said Hockett.
Troops aboard the flight returned fire.
With flights going in and out of “hot” areas, insurgent fire is likely to occur, explained Hockett.
“You can’t let it stop you from doing your job,” said Hockett. “You just make peace with that before you take off.”
Hockett was taken to Germany for his injury, and then sent back to the United States to Balboa Naval Medical Center San Diego.
“I didn’t want to leave,” said Hockett “I wanted to stay in Afghanistan. You don’t want to leave your guys behind.”
Hockett’s fellow Marines were not surprised he did not want to leave after the incident.
That is how every Marine should feel; like they cannot leave their men, explained Sgt. Steven Ingel, a crew chief with VMM-161 and a Kennewick, Wa., native.
“You hear about people being hurt, but when it happened to Hockett, it was a more personal hit to the unit,” said Ingel, who has known Hockett since 2010.
Rachel Hockett, his wife and a Sacramento, Calif., native, explained that through everything, Hockett’s only concern was getting back to his Marines.
“It was so weird,” said Rachel. “He would be going into surgery and all he would say is ‘I need to get back.’”
Due to all the reconstructive surgery, he did not go back to Afghanistan. However, there was a silver lining.
“I was home to see my son’s birth, so that worked out well,” said Hockett jokingly.
In the same month, Hockett received a Purple Heart for his injury.
“He wears that award for all [of his Marines] because he knows it wasn’t just him out there,” said Rachel. “But he is a hero to me and will be a hero to his son when he is old enough to know what his daddy did as a Marine.”
Hockett rejoined VMM-161 when they returned from deployment in February and finally got his wish to be back with all his Marines.