In the midst of a 2,700-plus mile walk, former U.S. Marine Justin Kuhel walked through Booneville Friday afternoon.
Kuhel (rhymes with fuel) left Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and, covering about 23 miles a day he plans to complete a journey to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, Calif., in early October.
This isn’t a sight seeing trip, except that he expects to be the sight seen. Wearing a pack with a United States flag mounted to it, he’s hard to miss, but that’s the idea.
Kuhel is making the trip to raise money for a couple of charities who specialize in care for wounded service members. Ironically, it was a documentary about the lives of wounded service men and women, among them a man with whom Kuhel served, that served as the impetus for the walk.
"I was watching a documentary about a Marine in my unit who was shot — I was actually on patrol with him when he got shot — it was about his recovery and everything," said Kuhel. "You have so many people around you who get injured, it’s such a frequent thing in war, you don’t think about what goes into recovery."
That trip was from Kuhel’s native Columbus, Ohio to Arlington National Cemetery.
"I wanted to do something and I had spring break coming up and I had never been to Arlington — I have friends who are buried there. It was such a positive experience I wanted to do something on a bigger scale," said Kuhel.
Kuhel raised $13,000 for the Wounded Warrior project on that walk. The idea this time is to raise $100,000 and as of his trek through South Logan County Friday, Kuehl said he was at the $30,000 mark, which is a little behind schedule in relation to his walk.
"We’d like for donations to pick up, but we’ll get there," said Kuhel. "I’m pretty confident."
Tax deductible donations can be made at the 501(c)3 organization at www.walkacrossamerica.com. Cash donations are also accepted and any other help with accommodations.
The benefactors of this walk are the Headstrong Project and Help our Military Heroes, Kuhel said.
"The Headstrong Project provides free no-hassle mental health care to veterans. Help Our Military Heroes building modified vehicles for guys who were severely wounded over there," he said. "You can drive a car from a wheelchair.
"Both of them are small organizations but they’re really, really good. They give well over 95 percent of the money they make into the programs."
In contrast, the Wounded Warrior project has management making $300,000, according to Kuhel.
"I’m not saying they don’t help people, they do," he said.
Though the route was mapped to hit as many larger cities as possible, Kuhel said he has found that it is the smaller towns where he finds the most appreciation as was the case with Randy Myers who pulled over to speak with Kuhel at the Booneville city limit sign Friday.
"You hardly ever get people in the big cities that stop. It’s kind of that mentality I guess (but) it’s the small towns were you get a lot of people that stop and you get donations," he said.
Kuhel said he has also been the subject of 15 to 20 newspaper stories and about that many television segments.
"We’re trying to get some national media obviously, but we haven’t got it just yet," said Kuhel.
Though he is an honorably discharged from the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines and who served one tour in Remadi, Iraq and another in Helmand Province in Afghanistan — scout sniper platoon — it is not a death walk.
Kuhel is accompanied by a van and driver along the route — Marine friends, his mother and father, and other relatives are manning the van for various stretches. He will stop and rest, grab a bite to eat, recharge his cell phone and such every five to seven miles before hitting the road again.
"At the end of the night he will pick me up and drive me to where we’re staying and the next morning drop me back off where I was so I get in all the miles," said Kuhel.
In addition to his pack, Kuhel carries a GPS that marks mileage and a pedometer to count steps. Thanks to a shoe sponsor he was outfitted with eight pairs of shoes — he’s worn out a couple and changes shoes if they become wet. That does happen because rainy weather is no reason to stop hoofing it.
Following nursing school, Kuhel doesn’t anticipate having another five month window to do it again so the second walk was now or never.
Kuhel turned 26 during the walk, celebrating his birthday on July 11 in Little Rock.
When the trip is over Kuhel will be entering nursing school at Mount Carmel, who is a graduate of the same school.