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Brother of Aberdonian Killed in Iraq

"Brother of Aberdonian Killed in Iraq." Aberdeen American News, 23 September 2004.
A former All-American wrestler with Aberdeen ties was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Iraq, military officials said.

Staff Sgt. Lance Koenig, 33, of Fargo, N.D., died shortly after midnight Wednesday while on patrol with his North Dakota National Guard outfit near the Iraqi city of Tikrit.

Koenig, a former North Dakota State University athlete, is the younger brother of Les Koenig, associate pastor of Aberdeen's First Baptist Church.

Koenig, 35, said that his brother's wife Angie called him Wednesday morning to inform him about the tragedy.

He did not want to comment on his brother's death, but said the family would be issuing a press release in the near future. Les and Lance grew up in Carrington, N.D., where their parents still live.

Lance Koenig was assigned to the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion's Company B, based in Jamestown. The 15-year Guard veteran had been in Iraq since February.

NDSU wrestling coach Bucky Maughan said former Bison wrestlers called him from around the country Wednesday after hearing the news.

''Lance was one of the more successful North Dakota wrestlers,'' Maughan said. ''Everybody liked Lance. He was just one of those nice, easy going guys.''

Koenig finished second in the NCAA Division II national tournament as a sophomore and sixth as a junior.

Maughan said Koenig joined the National Guard to help pay for college expenses. The school did not offer full scholarships to wrestlers.

The NDSU coach talked with Koenig while he was home on leave in July.

''He was all excited that he got to come home,'' Maughan said. ''He said it's the worst place in the world you could be . . . desolate and hot. He was dreading the thought of going back.''

Koenig is survived by his wife and two daughters, Maughan said.

''He was completely devoted to his family,'' Maughan said. ''Those two little girls meant the world to him.''

Koenig won the North Central Conference wrestling title as a senior in 1994, but injured his knee in the semifinals of the national tournament.

Joel Vettel, Koenig's teammate at NDSU for five years, said he spent most of Wednesday afternoon and evening on the phone with former Bison wrestlers.

''Many of them haven't see Lance for many years, but they wanted to find out what happened and if they could do anything,'' Vettel said. ''It speaks volumes about the type of person he was. We have been doing a lot of reminiscing.''

A former three-sport standout at Carrington High School, Koenig was probably the best all-around athlete on the NDSU wrestling team, Vettel said.

''He was a very gifted athlete who never took himself real seriously. That was part of his appeal,'' Vettel said. ''He wasn't very flamboyant or outgoing. He would rather sit at home and play Nintendo games than go out.''

Spotted suspicious object: Military officials in Iraq said Wednesday that Koenig was in a vehicle when he spotted a suspicious object at the side of the road.

It turned out to be a bomb, which detonated and killed him, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the Army's 1st Infantry Division.

North Dakota Guard officials said they knew of no other soldiers with serious injuries in the incident.

Wednesday's death brings to six the number of North Dakota National Guardsmen killed in Iraq.

About 475 members of the 141st are stationed there. They started arriving in Kuwait on Feb. 15 and were expected to serve about a year.

The soldiers are in three primary locations - near Balad and Baqubah, which are just north of Baghdad, and near Tikrit, the home town of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Tikrit is about 100 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Two other members of the unit were killed in May. They were Spc. Philip Brown, 21, of Jamestown, and Spc. James Holmes, 28, of East Grand Forks, Minn. About 19 have been wounded.

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