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USU Student Helped Save Friend and Fellow Soldier

Two photos side by side of a man's uninjured and injured face

By Christopher Austin

In 2007, Army Maj. Grigory Charny was in his second year of medical school at Uniformed Services University (USU) when he received the phone call.

He had known Maj. Jim Hochstetler for the past six years, after they first met at the Army’s 25th Light Infantry Division in Hawaii. The two became fast friends, and even though their careers diverged over the years, they kept in touch. While Charny went on to military medicine, Hochstetler was selected for special operations deployment. Neither expected it, but their paths crossed again with that phone call as Charny was informed that Hochstetler had been injured in Iraq.

An exterior photo of a gun truck focused on the driver’s side with Army Maj. Grigory Charny sitting in the driver’s seat in his uniform looking at the camera, In the back seat is a another member of the platoon. A person is manning the gun on top of the vehicle with their back to the camera.
Army Maj. Grigory Charny served as an anti-tank platoon leader in Afghanistan in 2004, alongside his friend Jim Hochstetler, who was a scout platoon leader. (Image credit: courtesy of Army Maj. Grigory Charny)

Hochstetler’s unit had been hit with an explosively formed projectile, which killed two of his friends and left him with an amputated nose, severe burns to the left side of his body, and a major traumatic brain injury. These injuries resulted in him being transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) for treatment.

“I just walked out of class when I heard he was in the operating room,” Charny said. “I was privileged at Walter Reed, because I was a student at USU. The [otolaryngologist] who was working on Jim let me scrub in and help him.”

An Army humvee sits with its wheels flattened, windows cracked and armored sidings peppered with shrapnel in an Iraqi field.
Hochstetler was injured following his transport being hit with an explosively formed projectile while deployed in Iraq in 2007. Two of his teammates were killed in the explosion and he was left with part of his nose taken off, burns and wounds on the left side of his body and an injury to his right hand. (Image credit: courtesy of Army Maj. (ret.) Jim Hochstetler)

After that initial surgery, Hochstetler still had a long road to recovery. Charny was there to help him along every step of the way.

“Dr. Charny was instrumental in helping me,” Hochstetler said. “We’re kind of on the same wavelength when it comes to explaining the injuries. He was taking the recommendations and the things that the doctors were doing with me and distilling them down into what I absolutely needed to do, and some of the things I probably should do.”

Army Maj. Jim Hochstetler stands in civilian clothes, shorts and a t-shirt, with bandages on his nose, along the left side of his face and on his right hand.
After his vehicle was hit by an explosively formed projectile, Army Maj.
Jim Hochstetler was seriously injured and transferred to Walter Reed
National Military Medical Center for treatment. It was there he was
reunited  with his friend from his time in the 25th Light Infantry, Maj.
Grigory Charny, currently a professor of Military & Emergency
Medicine at USU.
(Image credit: courtesy of Army Maj. (ret.) Jim Hochstetler)
Charny was able to help his friend outside of the hospital as well, welcoming him into his home for the winter holidays, and rooming Hochstetler’s family. Despite how happy they were to see each other again, Hochstetler was eager to return to his unit in Iraq.

This was no easy task, as different approvals were needed from both the military and medical to put Hochstetler back on active duty, and medical approval had hit a snag.

After he was transferred from WRNMMC to another hospital, a psychiatrist wanted to perform multiple tests on him for their research, since they hadn’t seen injuries like his before, Hochstetler said. Luckily, Charny was able to step in and provide input that led to Hochstetler not having to take the tests and being approved to return to deployment.

“Based on his injuries, I thought he was done with Service, frankly, and I was so happy when he made his recovery,” Charny said. “Jim’s a very determined West Pointer. He’s not going to allow anything to stop him. He went right back to jumping, fast-roping and doing all those things Special Operators do.

Every military doctor has to consider the possibility that they may have to care for someone they know, Charny said, and that’s why, in the infantry, Service members have been trained to move and operate under the idea that anyone they know in the field can be hurt or killed. By objectively viewing patients, military doctors are able to ensure their safety and that they are professionally cared for. Combat medics face this on a daily basis.

Hochstetler stands in his fatigues with his wife and two children after his injury.
While Hochstetler was in the hospital, his family roomed with Charny and his wife. (Image credit: courtesy of Army Maj. (ret.) Jim Hochstetler)

“It made me feel good in the end once the procedure was done because I was able to turn off my emotions till the work [of saving Hochstelter’s life, face, neck, and nose] was done. I never thought I would be challenged with this concept while in medical school. It was sobering, but we are in the business of saving lives, bodies, and minds. And business is business,” Charny said.

Hochstetler stands next to a plaque in a building interior while wearing his Special Operations equipment and has his rifle shouldered.
While he was recovering at WRNMMC, Hochstetler’s friend Captain
Benjamin Tiffner was killed in action on November 7, 2007. When he
recovered and returned to Iraq, Hochstetler had his photo taken next to the
memorial erected in his friend’s honor at the company operations post
(COP) named after him, COP Tiffner, in Iraq. “He was one of my best
friends and one of the best Green Berets I’ve known,” Hochstetler said.
Image credit: courtesy of Army Maj. (ret.) Jim Hochstetler)
The two friends have a shared history in deployment: Hochstetler was a scout platoon leader while Charny was an anti-tank platoon leader.

“We would insert them and later pull them out of tight spots, if they needed us,” Charny said.

They even remained in touch after Charny briefly left the army to return to school to get his Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases Master’s degree from Georgetown University. He returned to active duty and now is an assistant professor of Military and Emergency Medicine at USU’s F. Edward H├ębert School of Medicine.

“Grig’s a brilliant guy and he’s going to finish what he puts his mind to. He takes his background as a combat guy in the infantry and does an outstanding job as an emergency med doctor. Especially for guys coming back from places where they sustained injuries in combat,” Hochstetler said.