Toting a backpack and a United States flag, Justin Kuhel walked out of the western Maryland town of Clear Spring and headed the 11 miles east toward Hagerstown at midday Monday.
Kuhel has been walking a lot since 2012, when he saw “Hell and Back Again.” The documentary focused, on part, on a Marine who was recovering from wounds suffered in Afghanistan.
“I was actually on the patrol with him when he got shot. I remember when he got shot. I remember them loading him onto the bird,” Kuhel said Monday as traffic passed on U.S. Rt. 40.
“I was just sitting around when I was watching that,” Kuhel said. “I was in school, but other than that I wasn’t really doing much, and I felt like I needed to do something to help out my fellow veterans. I was a grunt (an infantry member) in the Marine Corps, so walking is what we do, and it just kind of seemed like the natural thing.”
So in 2012, he walked from his home in Columbus to Arlington National Cemetery, raising about $13,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. In 2014, he spent five months walking from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Camp Pendleton, Calif., raising more than $100,000 for veterans organizations.
On Dec. 14, he started his third walk, a 400-mile route from Columbus to Arlington. This time, he’s raising money for Help Our Military Heroes, which helps those who need modified vehicles because of their injuries, and Save a Warrior, which provides counseling and mental health services for veterans, members of the military, police, firefighters and other first responders.
Those two groups do “amazing work” for veterans, Kuhel said.
“The people who run these organizations are just tireless,” he said.
Donations, which are tax-deductible, come in a variety of ways. Online donations have been set up through Save a Warrior, he said. People can visit the March for our Vets Facebook page and click on a “learn more” button to contribute.
“And then also I do get people stopping me and giving me money, and then I send the money back almost every day, whenever I pass a post office,” he said. “It’s all tax deductible, all above-board, so you’re not just handing your money to some homeless-looking guy or whatever,” he said with a laugh as he pointed to himself.
Kuhel has been toting a tent on this walk. On Sunday, after a rain-soaked trek, he spent the night at a campsite near Hancock. On other nights, he said, he has spent nights at fire companies or other organizations that have provided a spot.
On his 2012 trip to Arlington, he said, he took a route through West Virginia. He said this is the first time he has traveled through the mountains of Western Maryland.
Kuhel joined the Marines in 2006, after graduating from high school. In 2007, he was deployed to Iraq, and in 2009 he was sent to Afghanistan. He was honorably discharged in 2010 and began working as a firefighter and paramedic.
Now 31, he’s been working part time as he pursues full-time studies at The Ohio State University.
“I should be graduating in the summer,” he said. “But if I don’t hit my $20,000 goal by the time I get to Arlington (late this week), I will be turning around and continue walking back. I’m supposed to start school again on the 6th. But if I’m walking, I’ll obviously have to push my plans back and I’ll be graduating in the fall.”
He’s pursuing a degree in public policy, but he expects he’ll stay in a firefighter and paramedic role.
“I really enjoy that work. So I’m probably going to stick with that,” he said. “I had kind of entertained the thought of getting into politics, but that might be something (for) later in life.”
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