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|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Army Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
COL Samuel L Russell U.S. Army (1988-Present)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
Family tradition. My Brother was a Marine Officer. My Sister and her Husband were Air Force Officers. My Father was a career Army engineer. All of my Uncles served. Both my Grandfathers were career Officers and WWII vets. One of my Great-Grandfathers was a career Officer as was his Father. I guess that makes me a fifth generation Army Officer.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I was branched Quartermaster and have served in the logistics field for all of my 24 years of service. Going to Ranger school right after QM Officer Basic definitely helped to set a "Warrior first, Logistician second" frame of mind and has carried with me through my entire career. It is a shame that it is so difficult for today's Sustainment Officers to get slots in Ranger school, as it really is the premier Army leadership course.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
Following is an email I sent to family and friends during my Battalion Command tour in Baghdad.
From: Russell, Samuel L LTC MIL USA FORSCOM
Sent: Thu, 3 Apr 2008 4:10 pm
Subject: Another Memorial
Family and Friends...
I've been trying to get out another update on the events of the past two months, but we've had a busy couple of weeks -- large spike in insurgent activity. Unfortunately, our brigade lost several Soldiers. Again, my battalion was spared any casualties. I can't bring myself to write about my trivial goings on with the weight of the latest combat operations, and the burden of the associated loss. That will have to wait.
One of the missions my unit performs is recovering heavily damaged vehicles that units are unable to self-recover. We had several over the past week into heavily contested areas. Our follow-on missions after a recovery are to sanitize the damaged or destroyed vehicles, process the human remains and prepare the fallen Soldiers for transport through the mortuary in Baghdad and on to the mortuary in Dover. Unless out on a mission, I am always present when remains are brought back and vehicles are sanitized. It is the most solemn of missions and at the same time potentially the most psychologically demanding that my Soldiers encounter.
One of my recovery teams went out with 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment -- Rangers -- to bring back a destroyed HMMWV and two of their fallen comrades. This mission involved running a gauntlet of improvised explosive devices (IED), rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and small arms fire--there and back--and, thank God, our guys returned unscathed, despite being hit by all three. I was there when we downloaded the severely damaged gun truck, which was missing an armored door after receiving the full blast of an explosively formed projectile (EFP). After untarping the vehicle and beginning the sanitization, I moved to the mortuary affairs collection point where I met those two young Rangers, not in life but in death. The earthly remnants of their bodies were void of the souls and spirits that so recently filled them with life and aspirations, but had now moved onto a better place. After fourteen months of hard fought combat, these two Rangers were only days from going home; each was in his early twenties. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my chaplain as he prayed over the bodies of these two fine young men.
No movie can capture the essence of war, not even the beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan. Rightfully, such true to life experiences should not be seen and felt by anyone. Beyond the sights and sounds of battle, the movies can never bring to the viewer the overwhelming crush to the other senses: touch, taste and smell. My attempts to describe the variety and severity of each sensory input would make this message unreadable. So, I'll spare you those details. Suffice it to say that the most overwhelming sense is that of loss.
Today we held the traditional memorial ceremony for both of them. It was comforting to see photos of them when they were whole, strong, motivated and proud to serve. Unfortunately, what I'll carry with me is the images of my meeting with them at my mortuary as we prepared them for their hero flight home.
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur once said, "The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
While this is true, the Soldier also prays for his life, the life of his buddy next to him, the loved ones he is serving to protect, and his safe return home where he can peacefully enjoy that blanket of freedom for which he has sacrificed so much. He prays for victory, for strength in battle, for the annihilation of his enemy, and for retribution of fallen comrades. But what separates a Soldier's prayer from any other God-fearing American, is that he puts his prayers into action. Wielding his God-given strength he storms into the cauldron of fire, takes the fight to the enemy, places his life on the line for his buddies, seeks vengeance for his fallen comrades, and annihilates the enemy.
May God continue to bless our Nation with young men like Specialist Durrell Bennett and Private First Class Patrick Miller, young men that not only pray for peace but are willing to answer the prayers of millions of Americans by waging into battle to protect and preserve that blanket of freedom. Sleep gently tonight America, for your brave young men are standing firmly at their post.
God Bless, Sam
SAMUEL L. RUSSELL
94th BSB Commander
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
My first assignment was to Wiesbaden Air Base, West Germany. It was an outstanding community--Army, Air Force, and German. It also was a phenomenal time to be in Germany, 1989 to 1992. We were able to see the Berlin Wall come down and East and West become a unified nation again. Our trip through Check Point Alpha, through the East German corridor to Check Point Bravo, and ultimately through Check Point Charlie to East Berlin was one of the highlights of my early career. Being able to chip on the Wall and secure a large chunk of it was priceless.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There are so many memories. One particular memory is of perhaps my most emotionally demanding duty in the Army, notifying a young wife that she was now a widow, and telling her mother-in-law that her Soldier-son was gone.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
No valorous awards here. I received a Combat Action Badge in March 2005 because the Combat Logistics Patrol in which I was traveling through west Baghdad came under small arms fire. One Iraqi truck driver (white trucks) was wounded. I was the Brigade S3 out observing the patrol. We halted the patrol to assess the casualty and swap out drivers. My sole role was to dismount, move to the nearest Blue Force Tracker, and send up a SALUTE report.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My 10th Mountain Division Shoulder Sleeve Insignia-Foreign Wartime Service, or combat patch is my most meaningful badge, as I wear it in memory of two Soldiers that were killed in action under my command, Mark Stone and Marcus Mathes, as well as for all the Soldiers that I was privileged to serve along side in Iraq. Everything else on my uniform is bling.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
There have been so many mentors and friends, subordinates, peers and superiors alike. Perhaps the one that has shaped me more than any other, is my good friend, Shawn Morrissey. I served as his executive officer when he commanded the 559th Quartermaster Battalion, then as a Brigade S3 Operations Officer when he was the Deputy Commanding Officer, and finally as his deputy when he was the 3d Infantry Division G4 Logistics Officer. Through war and peace he has been a trusted friend and mentor.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
One stands out. As a green 2nd Lt. and Platoon Leader, I was on my first and only REFORGER (Return Forces to Germany). It was January or February 1990 in Ingolstadt, Germany, and bitterly cold. I was checking my Laundry and Bath site, and noticed that the 1,500 gallon stave tank in the back of the shower tent had a thick coat of ice on it. I took my M16 and used the butt of the rifle to try and crack the ice. Just when I broke the ice, the weapon slipped from my hand and sunk to the bottom of the tank. As I was staring into the tank contemplating how to retrieve my rifle from the icy water, two of my Squad Leaders, Sergeant Warner and Sergeant Burkhalter, appeared from behind me and asked what I was looking at. I explained what happened and told them to fetch me a rake, and not mention the incident to anyone. One retrieved a rake while the other ran back to the company headquarters. When I returned to the headquarters, the Company had formed an impromptu gauntlet that I had to traverse, with my Company Commander at the end waiting with a weapons cleaning kit.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I am currently serving as the Chief, Mobility Division at Third Army (USARCENT) G4--Patton's Own!--Shaw Air Force Base, SC.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I am a lifetime member of the Association of Quartermasters and have served as the active duty member of the board.
I joined the Society of the Third Infantry Division after completing my first tour in Iraq with the 3d Infantry Division Support Brigade.
While home on R&R during my Battalion Command tour in Baghdad, I visited some of our wounded warriors in Walter Reed Hospital. One of my Soldiers, a double amputee, had just returned from a vacation with his wife in Alaska. When I asked who sponsored the trip, he mentioned that it was funded through the 10th Mountain Division Association. I've been a member ever since.
Two years ago I joined a hereditary organization, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States--MOLLUS. My Gr-gr-grandfather was an original member, and my gr-grandfather also was a member. I thought I would pay them respect and homage by joining as well.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
It has influenced everything I do, from the way I approach solutions to problems to how I interact with family and friends, from inspiring me with a desire for life-long learning, to instilling me with the Army values.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
God bless you. Enjoy, or at least appreciate, every day in the service and every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine that you're privileged to work alongside.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Togetherweserved.com has been a great outlet to commemorate the service of some outstanding Americans that have gone before me: those with whom I have had the privilege of serving with, and those who have served as sterling examples to me of service to our Nation.
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