Sergeant major Fort Bliss overcomes injuries through cycling
FORT BLISS — Nearly five years ago, Sgt. Maj. Jerry W. Hochstedler’s life changed forever when he was severely wounded in combat in Afghanistan.
But Hochstedler, still on active duty as the operations sergeant major with Joint Task Force North at Fort Bliss, refuses to be stopped by the injuries he suffered on May 19, 2009.
Hochstedler, a career Special Forces noncommissioned officer, got into a standoff with a sniper that day and got shot in his arm in Marjah, Helmand Province. Since then, he’s had to have 28 surgeries on the arm and only has about 30 percent use in it, he said.
“I’d been going toe to toe with a sniper for about six hours,” Hochstedler said. “We finally saw each other and he got me before I got him. He basically shot my arm off.”
The bullet shattered two bones in his arm, severed an artery and a nerve and lacerated all the muscles on the bottom side of the arm, said Hochstedler, a 53-year-old Aspen Valley, Colo., native.
He got a nerve graft-transplant which gave him better mobility in the arm but has left him in constant pain, he said. He refuses to take any painkillers after getting addicted to pain and nerve medicines earlier in his recovery process, he said.
Hochstedler has always been an avid bicyclist, but he has rededicated himself to the sport since getting wounded. He cycles at least 250 miles a week and hopes one day to qualify for the Paralympics, an Olympic games for athletes with disabilities.
Bicycling keeps him going and has served as a source of solace as he’s dealt with his injured arm, he said.
“It’s one of those deals: I’m not any better than anyone else just cause I’m Special Forces,” he said. “I’m just different. You just don’t quit.”
While he was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he watched a double-amputee Marine Corps sergeant major give up on his recovery and end up dying, he said.
“It’s one of the most tragic things I’ve ever seen,” Hochstedler said. “I can’t talk about it without getting emotional.”
Hochstedler said he’s gotten lots of help both through a special Care Coalition program offered through U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., and through programs at Fort Bliss. This help has included going to counseling.
“We all have a coping mechanism that we need to discover,” Hochstedler said. “Mine happens to be bicycling. You just have to figure out what it is.
“I’ve seen guys killed, guys blown up,” Hochstedler added. “I’ve seen all that stuff. There are people out there who can help. You just have to go ask for it.” Hochstedler was also an avid woodworker and has a woodworking shop at his home in Fayetteville, N.C. outside of Fort Bragg, that would be the envy of many professional furniture makers, he said. Because of his injuries, he can’t work with wood the way he once did, but has substituted bicycling in its place.
“Not being able to work with wood just kills me,” he said. “Being able to ride the bicycle keeps me going.”
His motto of never giving up has served him well, he said. He didn’t get it through any Army training he has received over the years. Instead, that toughness and perseverance was instilled in him through his parents – John C. and Dorothy A. Hochstedler, who grew up during and survived the Great Depression. His parents now live in Nebraska.
Brig. Gen. Jon S. Lehr, commander of Joint Task Force North, said he’s impressed by how Hochstedler approaches his military job and his recovery from his injuries.
“Sgt. Maj. Hochstedler is a proven leader who has proudly served with our nation’s elite Special Forces throughout his military career, including multiple combat deployments,” Lehr said. “His unyielding commitment to mission accomplishment, devotion to duty and professionalism is matched only by his untiring efforts to recover from his combat wounds. He clearly serves as a stellar example for all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
Joint Task Force North provides Department of Defense support to law enforcement in anti-drug efforts.
• Hometown: Born at what was then William Beaumont General Hospital in El Paso, but has no childhood memories of El Paso. Grew up in Aspen Valley, Colo.
• Previous service: 29 years in Army. Attended the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss in 2011-12. The operations sergeant major at Joint Task Force North since June 2012.
• Deployments: Served in the Gulf War, three deployments to Afghanistan and one to Pakistan.
• Education: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Campbell University.
• Awards: Bronze Star (three oak leaf clusters, one award with V device); Meritorious Service Medal (two oak leaf clusters); Army Commendation Medal (three oak leaf clusters, one award with V device); Combat Infantry Badge with star; Special Forces Tab; Ranger Tab.
• Family: Married to the former Telisa-Lynn “Lisa” Caille of Basalt, Colo. They have two adult children — Jeremiah, 32, a staff sergeant at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; and Amber, 31, a military analyst in Washington, D.C. Two granddaughters — Olivia and Scarlett.
David Burge may be reached at 546-6126.