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US Marine Corps veteran walking to assist others

The annual Laps for Life event was hosted at the McGuire track on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Sept. 16, 2016. The event, which included participation from all services, is hosted to raise awareness for the ongoing issue of veteran suicide and encourage the community to reach out in aid. (Airman 1st Class Zachary Martyn/Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs)

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Justin Kuhel stopped in Cumberland on Friday during his walk to Washington, D.C., which is raising money for veterans.

Kuhel left Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 14 and expects to arrive at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 3. He has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and has fellow military friends buried there.

Kuhel, who calls his journey March For Our Vets, said he averages about 20 miles a day walking.

“I didn’t realize the mountains, what they were like, so it’s been a bit of a rough day but we made it through,” Kuhel said. “I’m feeling like I’m in pretty good shape now and the weather has not been too bad.”

Kuhel arrived at City Hall around 2:20 p.m. and was greeted by Mayor Ray Morriss and wife Brenda; City Administrator Jeff Rhodes; Kathy McKinney, community development specialist; Stu Czapski, Allegany County Chamber of Commerce president; Kori Smith of the Cumberland Police Department and several members of the Cumberland Fire Department.

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“The cold has definitely been a factor,” said Kuhel, 31. “I have snow shoes, but I haven’t needed them. The other walks I did, it was warmer out. I’m staying in a tent this time where other times I stayed in a hotel. It’s pretty cold in the morning so you want to get going.”

This is the second long-distance walk Kuhel has undertaken to raise money for veterans. He completed what he calls “March Across America,” which took him from North Carolina to California, in 2014.

“We raised a little over $100,000 that time,” he said. “This time I’m trying to raise $20,000. If I don’t hit the $20,000 by the time I get to Washington, I will turn around and keep walking until I do. I’m a full-time student at Ohio State University and I’m supposed to start (classes) on Jan. 6. So hopefully we will raise the $20,000. But, I can keep walking; I’m determined to reach the goal regardless how long it takes me.”

Kuhel is raising the funds for two veterans’ organizations.

“The first one is Save A Warrior, which helps with mental health care for veterans, police, firefighters and paramedics,” he said. “The other organization is Help our Military Heroes … they build modified vans for double and triple amputees and paraplegic veterans so, for example, they can drive their wheelchair right up into the van and have controls. Some of the vans cost $90,000 and above.

“One of the Marines I served with in Afghanistan who is paralyzed, they actually donated a van to him before I was even involved with the organization so I believe in them a lot.”

The son of Nancy and Joseph Kuhel, Justin Kuhel is from Columbus. Kuhel completed a seven-month tour in Iraq and an eight-month tour in Afghanistan.

“I went into the Marine Corps in 2006. I deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2007 and to the Helmand River Valley in Afghanistan in 2009 …,” said Kuhel. “I got out in 2010 and started going to school. I was a full-time firefighter paramedic in Columbus but I recently quit my job to focus full-time on school.”

He said he got interested in fundraising after seeing the 2012 PBS documentary, “Hell and Back Again.”

“The documentary was about a Marine that I was actually on patrol with,” Kuhel said. “He was in the company my team was attached to. He got shot in the hip and it was all about his recovery.”

Kuhel said the people he has met during his walks have been “wonderful.”

“I have discovered that of the thousands of interactions I’ve had, every single one has been positive. People really show support from all socioeconomic backgrounds … city, country, whatever, they really support their veterans and want to show it. One of the best parts of it is seeing how much people care and they appreciate your sacrifice. People are stopping and giving their last couple of bucks from their wallet. They try to give me rides. They’ve been wonderful.”

To donate to Kuhel’s effort visit his March For Our Vets Facebook page or the link: http://igfn.us/f/2jw5/n.

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© 2019 the Cumberland Times News