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Marine veteran Koenig completes Ruck Walk

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HARTINGTON — Marine Veteran Bob Koenig ended his 140 mile ‘Ruck for Refugees” walk in Hartington Thursday arriving at the site of the new planned Hartington Veterans’ Memorial.

As he came down State Street past the Historic Hartington Hotel, he was greeted and applauded by 30 Hartington area residents and members of the VFW and AmVets as well as his mother, Cheryl; his wife, Leslie, and their two young daughters, Eleanor and Lauren, who all drove up to witness the end of the six-day walk.

He is the son of Dan and Cheryl Koenig of Omaha and a nephew of Hartington residents Tom and Sue Lange. Both Dan and Sue are children of the late Owen and Mary Anne Koenig and grew up on a farm just south of Hartington. Before entering Hartington on his final leg of his walk, he took the opportunity to visit the old Koenig homestead and the graves of his grandparents and his uncle Bobby, who he is named after.

The Ruck for Refugees journey was set up to help raise awareness and money to find suitable housing for his Afghan friend and past interpreter Deputy Mubarak and his extended family. They were some of the first Afghanistan refugees to make it out of the country during the August pull-out of American troops in August and which turned out to be a grueling experience for the refugees who literally had nothing but the shirts on their back.

Mubarak was Koenig’s interpreter during his first two of four deployments to Afghanistan and he credits Mubarak with saving his life and the lives of his unit on countless occasions. Until recently, he had not seen Mubarak since he left Afghanistan in 2004 on his last tour of duty, he was able to reconnect after the U.S. departure and he felt obligated to do what he could do to help his friend and family get settled in America.

On his trek through Valley, Fremont, West Point, Wayne, Laurel, Coleridge and other towns along his route, he took the opportunity to visit all the veteran memorials he could along the way. He was so impressed with what he saw and so proud of how Nebraskans are remembering their veterans. He is especially pleased Hartington is building a veterans’ memorial. Dan Kathol took the opportunity to review the Hartington’s Veteran Memorial plans with him before everyone headed to the VFW to hear a presentation.

During his 45-minute unscripted presentation, he centered his talk around the word “obligation” which he is so passionate about and the main reason he completed the walk.

“As Americans, I feel we are obligated to get not only all the Americans who want to leave Afghanistan out of the country as soon as possible, but also help those Afghans and their families get out of the country and settled in the United States who worked closely and side by side with the American troops during our 20 year stay in the country. If they are not able to get out of the country, they and their families will be targeted for helping the Americans and they will surely be hunted down by the enemy now in control and most likely all killed,” he said.

He went on to say that we Americans made a solemn promise to these interpreters and other Afghans that helped the American troops and who served us honorably, that they would be taken care of if and when the need arose and allow them to apply for a Special Immigration Visa to the U.S.

“In this case, the need is great and has become a life or death situation that we left them with during our pull-out from Afghanistan. We have a duty to honor our commitment and help those that helped us immensely and whom risked their lives to help us root out the enemy and keep us out of harm’s way all those 20 years. Hopefully, my Ruck for Refugees walk can help build awareness of our obligation to these refugees and to help inspire other veterans to get actively involved as we have with Mubarak, by helping their Afghan interpreters who helped them during their deployment in Afghanistan. If I can be somewhat of an ambassador to the cause and help educate people, that would be good,” Koenig said.

He and his wife Leslie, who herself is a Navy veteran, are working together in different ways to raise the raise money to help Mubarak and his family get settled in a house and the “Ruck” walk was just the beginning, raising over $20,000 (as of Oct. 25) of the $250,000 goal.

Leslie has recently set up a Go Fund Me Page and they now have a webpage.

“I and Leslie are fully committed in this cause to help Mubarak and his family,” he said.

Koenig talked about his experience in the military during his active duty from 1998 until 2005. His specialty was working in counter intelligence and when Sept. 11, 2001 happened, he became actively involved in hunting down those responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center, especially Bin Laden. After Afghanistan was liberated by America in 2001, he was deployed four times to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq as well as many other assignments in hostile areas.

In all his deployments, his responsibility was to gather intelligence both in technical and human intelligence operations. He talked about how corrupt the leadership is in the Afghanistan army and how much of the money the Afghan military commanders received from the U.S. and other countries is kept with the top Afghan officials and only a small portion made its way to pay their troops which led to poor morale. He mentioned the interpreters and other helpful Afghans who sided with the U.S., facilitated much needed information to the American troops to help keep the soldiers out of dangerous situations and territory from those Afghans who were the enemy.

“Because of the rugged territory, it was tough to get around and so much of their defense centered around our air power to rout out the enemy with precision accuracy. The few roads that were passable were targeted with roadside bombs causing many of the deaths and injuries that the American troops experienced,” he said.

A question was asked about the abrupt withdrawal of American troops and why the Afghan army did not stand up to fight the Afghan rebels and the Taliban.

“When we withdrew, the Afghans lost most all air power defense capabilities that the U.S. provided, which was key to them having any chance to hold back the enemy insurgence. In addition, the enemy now had all the military equipment that the U.S. left behind. The morale was probably quite low especially with little or no pay and with the U.S. leaving, they most likely felt they did not have a fighting chance and would be killed if they did not lay down their arms,” Koenig said.

Koenig went on to say that the majority of the Afghan refugees being brought to the United States are good hard-working honest people that are anxious to find jobs and eventually become U.S. citizens down the road. “They reinforced that just by their actions in helping the American troops and risking their lives daily during our 20 year occupation. I can understand and get why many Americans are skeptical and not in favor of helping the Afghan refugees immigrate to the U.S. especially with the open border crisis we are all witnessing. But like the Vietnam war, we helped those Vietnamese refugees who helped us during the war get settled in America and most have become productive U.S. citizens. I see this situation as being very similar especially since we made a promise to our Afghan interpreters that they would be taken care of if the need ever arose. It is a matter of educating the public on the responsibility we have to help those that helped us,” he said.

After Koenig’s inspiring and educational talk, Dean McGregor, Commander of the VFW, presented him with a check for $600 from the VFW that included some monetary donations from others who wanted to contribute. Koenig thanked everyone for coming out and

Koenig thanked everyone for coming out and for the monetary donation and ended by again saying the walk is over, but the story continues.

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