After a two year absence, a local serviceman was able to return home this month. Robbie Koenigstein, 26, formerly of Okawville, is a Senior Airmen (SrA) in the United States Air Force. Following his enlistment in 2016, Koenigstein graduated from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio before going through tech school in Wichita Falls, Texas at Sheppard’s Air Force Base. He was first stationed in Las Vegas in 2017. Since then, his line of work has zeroed in on munitions, which focuses on stockpiles and issuing them out. After his two year stint in Las Vegas, Koenigstein decided he wanted to take his profession overseas. In July 2019, he found himself in South Korea.
“I just wanted to travel, experience different cultures, and see different places,” Koenigstein said.
Little did he know, his time away from the states would last longer than anticipated when the COVID-19 pandemic exposed its ugly face.
“It was rough. We could leave the base, but only to walk around with a mask on. We couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t travel, had curfew, there was no public transportation,” Koenigstein said.
His deployment in Korea lasted a year, and in July of 2019 he was then sent to Italy, where he is currently stationed. Although he knew when his time in Korea ended he would be sent to Italy, the initial plan was to come home for a friend’s wedding beforehand in August of 2020.
“It was rough,” he said. “To think you are going to come home and then not. It affected everyone though, we all were going through the same thing.”
Roughly three months ago when European airlines opened up international flights, the hope to come home was renewed, and it eventually became a reality.
“I wanted to get home as soon as I could, but it was hard to find a time because everyone else wanted to get home too,” Koenigstein said.
Earlier this month, Koenigstein surprised his family and friends with a trip back to southern Illinois, where he will be through this week.
“Nobody knew. I told a few people so we could plan some things, but nobody knew,” he said.
It was his older brother who picked him up from the airport the day of his arrival to surprise his family.
“They thought they were getting another grandchild,” Koenginstein said with a laugh. “When my brother opened up the poster board, it said Welcome Home, then I was there to surprise them.”
Later that evening, he then surprised his friends at an impromptu gathering.
“Everyone was really happy to see me, and I’m happy to see them too,” he said.
It was those same family and friends who he leaned on during his two year stint overseas.
“It was hard not seeing everyone. It’s crazy how everyone grows up. Facetime and phone calls help,” Koenigstein said.
He noted it was easier to communicate with his loved ones while in Korea due to the 12 hour time difference.
“In Italy it’s a seven hour difference, and I work nights so usually when I go to bed everyone is getting up for work, and vice versa,” he said.
Throughout his stint home, he has spent time visiting with family and friends and attending his nieces soccer games. Upon his return to service next week, he will be back in Italy until July of 2022. Since European airlines opened back up for travel, he was able to go Amsterdam and is scheduled to visit Ireland in November. In July of 2022, Koenigstein will continue his service in the states, where he hopes to be stationed at either Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri or Scott Air Force Base.