Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Army Pfc. Gunnar R. Hotchkin

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Gunnar R. Hotchkin, 31, of Naperville, Ill.

Pfc. Hotchkin was assigned to the 161st Engineer Support Company, 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne), 20th Engineer Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died June 16, 2010 in North Kunduz, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Also killed in the attack was Army Spc. Joseph D. Johnson.

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (AP) ― The Defense Department has confirmed the explosion of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last week killed a soldier from the Chicago suburb of Naperville.

Authorities say Army Pfc. Gunnar Hotchkin was killed Wednesday when the blast flipped over the tank he was riding in.

Childhood friend Preston Bokos says Hotchkin, a carpenter, joined the Army at age 30 after being laid off when the company he was working for folded. Hotchkin enlisted to support his wife, Erin, and three children.

Bokos says it was Hotchkin's intent to ride out the recession in the military.
"It was just devastating," Bokos said of Hotchkin's death. "It was a numbing experience like no other death I've known."

Bokos had known Gunnar Hotchkin since they were 10 years old. They went through junior high together and were on the swim team at Hinsdale Central High School.

"He was the other half of my brain," Bokos said. "We fueled off of each other."

Though they stayed close through the years, their paths after high school went in completely different directions.

Bokos, 31, continued with his passion for swimming and now owns two sporting goods stores.

Hotchkin became a carpenter working for a home builder. He eventually rose up the ranks to building foreman but was laid off after the company went under, Bokos said.

To Bokos' surprise, Pfc. Hotchkin then enlisted in the Army in 2009 at age 30.

"I thought it was a bit nuts at first, but nonetheless he stepped up to the plate and was not going to let his family down," Bokos said. "It was disheartening because he was out of work. At the time no one was hiring any contractors, so it was the last resort to make sure that his family was going to be taken care of, and he always put his family first. He enlisted in the Army so he could put a roof over his children's heads and further his education."

Bokos said Hotchkin's best quality was his unmatched charisma.

"He had an unforgettable smile," he added. "He had a leadership quality that he possessed as a young child."

A 1997 graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, Hotchkin was an All-American swimmer who always was supportive of his team, said his former swim coach Tom Schweer.

"When you put him on a relay, he was just that much better because he wanted to support his people," said Schweer, now athletic director at Metea Valley High School in Aurora. "He was taking care of his family. He was taking care of his team in Afghanistan. That's the way he was."

Schweer had coached Hotchkin throughout his four years in high school and also knew his parents.

"It's a pretty tough time right now," Schweer said of dealing with Hotchkin's death.

Schweer said at roughly 5 feet 10 inches Hotchkin's physical presence wasn't commanding, but no one could match up with "the size of his heart."

"If you talk to any of his teammates, they'd all say the same thing ... incredibly funny guy, very hard worker, always there for his teammates," Schweer said.

A 1997 graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, coach Tom Schweer says Hotchkin was an All-American swimmer.

Another soldier, from the Flint area of Michigan, was killed in the same explosion.

The military said Monday that 24-year-old Army Spc. Joseph D. Johnson died Wednesday. Johnson and Hotchkin were assigned to the 161st Engineer Support Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Pfc. Hotchkin's awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the Combat Action Badge, and the Driver Badge with Driver Wheeled Vehicles.

Army Pfc. Gunnar R. Hotchkin was killed in action on 6/16/10.

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