In one of those rare battlefield miracles, an insurgent sniper hit Lance Cpl. Koenig dead on in the front of his helmet, and he walked away from it with a smile on his face.
The young Marine had already survived two roadside bomb blasts in a 2008 tour of the country:
Lance Cpl. Koenig, a lanky 21-year-old with jug-handle ears and a burr of sandy hair, is a designated marksman. His job is to hit the elusive Taliban fighters hiding in the tightly packed neighborhood near the base.
The insurgent sniper hit him first. The Casper, Wyo., native was kneeling on the roof of the one-story outpost, looking for targets.
He was reaching back to his left for his rifle when the sniper's round slammed into his helmet.
The impact knocked him onto his back.
"I'm hit," he yelled to his buddy, Lance Cpl. Scott Gabrian, a 21-year-old from St. Louis.
Lance Cpl. Gabrian belly-crawled along the rooftop to his friend's side. He patted Lance Cpl. Koenig's body, looking for wounds.
Then he noticed that the plate that usually secures night-vision goggles to the front of Lance Cpl. Koenig's helmet was missing. In its place was a thumb-deep dent in the hard Kevlar shell.
Lance Cpl. Gabrian slid his hands under his friend's helmet, looking for an entry wound. "You're not bleeding," he assured Lance Cpl. Koenig. "You're going to be OK."
Minutes later, while Koenig was being treated for what ended up being a thumb-sized welt on his forehead left by the bullet, Gabrian walked away from an RPG blast with only a concussion.
"We've got each other's backs," Lance Cpl. Gabrian said, the explosion still ringing in his ears.
Koenig went back to duty within an hour of being hit.