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Battalion honors soldier who died of cancer

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Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 4:30 am

“Build and Fight!” is the motto for the 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. One of its soldiers lived that motto, and left a mark on his unit that will live on forever.

Spc. Hal L. Neukirch Jr., a combat engineer, was remembered by his fellow soldiers during a small ceremony Monday, and the battalion’s conference room was officially named in his honor.

“I promise you, we will not forget what Hal means, now and in the future,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Jason Kelly, speaking to a group gathered at the battalion’s headquarters.

Kelly directed that remark to Neukirch’s sister, Tiffany Demo, who attended the ceremony with other family members.

Kelly was one of dozens of soldiers to be inspired by Neukirch during his short but eventful time in the Army. Neukirch died of a brain tumor earlier this year.

Originally from Kansas, Neukirch wasn’t the average soldier. He joined the Army at age 36, and deployed with the 20th Engineer Battalion to Afghanistan at age 37. While still in Afghanistan, at age 38, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was 39 when he died, his sister said.

But in that short time in the Army, Neukirch left a legacy that current and future soldiers in the battalion can aspire to, said Kelly, who visited Neukirch in the hospital as he was battling the cancer.

“I watched him stare down death,” Kelly said. “He had so much to feel down about, to feel bad about, and he didn’t.”

Other leaders in the unit said Neukirch frequently volunteered his time, and was very involved in everything the unit did.

“He was a great man, had a lot of passion about the military,” said Master Sgt. Floyd Slay, who was Neukirch’s former first sergeant. “(He) always wanted to get back in the fight.”

Slay was a pallbearer at Neukirch’s funeral in El Dorado, Kan. Seven other soldiers from the 20th Engineer Battalion also attended his funeral in March.

In Afghanistan, Neukirch received the Warfighter of the Month Award from the Navy, when his unit was attached to a Navy Seabee regiment. While he was battling cancer, fellow soldiers ventured to Neukirch’s home to present him the Army Commendation Medal.

He regularly hit the gym, thrived on physical fitness and was even known for his carpentry skills.

Neukirch had picked up a variety of skills prior to joining the Army in January 2009. He had been an emergency medical technician, personal trainer and held other jobs, his sister said.

Joining the Army had been something Neukirch wanted to do for many years, but his life had gone in a different direction, said Demo, who lives in Belton.

“It was a lifelong dream,” she said. “He woke up one day, and did it.”

She said her brother was always optimistic with a great sense of humor. Neukirch is survived by his wife, Pamela. The couple had married in 2009.

The conference room, even if the battalion is relocated to another building or another post, will forever carry the name “The Hal L. Neukirch Jr. Conference Room,” Kelly said. The plaque and lettering on the wall outside the conference will move with the battalion if the unit is ever relocated.

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