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140-mile 'Ruck for Refugees' ends in Hartington

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Man dedicated to housing Afghan interpreter, family who saved his life

HARTINGTON — Bob Koenig is easy to spot as he hikes down the road, sporting a red shirt with Ruck for Refugees printed large across the front and two flags waving from his backpack — the former Republic of Afghanistan flag and the American flag.

“People will wave, honk, a few people stop by and ask what I’m doing,” Koenig said from the side of a Cuming County road. “They’re all interested and it’s cool to just stop for a minute and talk.”

Koenig’s on a seven-day 140-mile ruck — a military hike with a pack — to raise awareness and money to supply housing for an Afghan interpreter, Deputy Mubarak, and his extended family.

Mubarak was one of the first people Koenig met when he landed in Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine in 2004. (Mubarak’s first name is not being disclosed due to the continued instability in Afghanistan and other family members who remain there.)

Koenig remembered him as being one of the smartest, well-spoken, and most caring interpreters with whom he worked.

The two men fell out of touch when Koenig left the country, but recently rekindled their friendship when Koenig reached out to learn more about Mubarak and his family fleeing the Taliban regime as the country collapsed after the American military withdrawal in August.

After overcoming the initial emergency of evacuation, Koenig wondered how else he could help the man who had saved his life countless times.

That’s when he learned of the family’s struggle to find affordable housing together and the idea for the ruck took shape.

The 140-mile route from Koenig’s home in Elkhorn to Hartington — where he has family — is significant because 140 miles is roughly the mileage covered by Mubarak’s family as they fled from eastern Afghanistan to board an evacuation plane at the Kabul airport.

For his own 140-mile journey, Koenig left his home Oct. 16, taking mainly gravel roads and staying in a camper or hotel rooms along the way.

Koenig plans to stop in Laurel Wednesday night before his final destination to Hartington.

So far, the Elkhorn man has raised almost $10,000 for the cause. He’s got a long way to reach his goal of $250,000 so the entire family can be together in Florida where Mubarak is now working in law enforcement.

Right now, much of Mubarak’s family is in Fort Bliss, Texas.

“Anything you can give is great, $5, $10 is great,” Koenig said from his trek along the road. “What you can really do for me is help spread the word. The more people read the story the more inclined they are to throw in a little bit.”

All donations will directly assist the family in staying together, Koenig said.

When Mubarak learned of Koenig’s plans to ruck for the cause, he was left mostly speechless and in disbelief.

“He didn’t really know what to say.“ Koenig said.

But Koenig said his own efforts pale in comparison to the service that Mubarak provided for U.S. forces in the fight against the Taliban.

“He gave so much and risked his life and his family’s life,” he said.

“It’s my honor and my passion to help the family of the ma who saved my life.”

For more information on Ruck for Refugees or to donate, vi

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