CAPT. BLAKE RUSSELL
Area soldier remembered as a son, a gentleman
By CHRIS VAUGHN
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
FORT WORTH -- Dawn had just broken over Eagle Mountain Lake on Sunday when Ron Russell was awakened by the doorbell.
As much as he didn't want to open the door to the two Army officers, he did.
Ron remembers the conversation well -- too well.
"The most horrible moment of my life," he said.
Then he and the officers, who had come from Fort Hood, drove to his ex-wife's house to wake her up, too.
Capt. Blake Russell would be escorted home soon, by comrades in the 101st Airborne Division. He had died the day before in Iraq.
His father thought back to a conversation they'd had in May on his son's R&R trip from Iraq.
"He told me he'd thought about Arlington [National Cemetery] but that he had decided he wanted to be buried here if anything happened," Ron said. "I told him that this was no conversation to be having."
His son, who was on his second 12-month tour in Iraq, knew better than his parents the dangers of the country. Capt. Russell, who was 35 and had two children of his own, was killed Saturday by a bomb in Baghdad, the Army said.
He never told his family much, surely by design. His family thought he had been in much greater danger his first tour in Iraq in 2003-04, when he was kicking in doors with the 4th Infantry Division in Al Anbar province. He was stationed near where Saddam Hussein was captured.
Beginning in September, when he started his second tour with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, he served as chief of a small instruction team that worked and lived with Iraqi army troops.
He loved the job because he felt it was a good place to make a difference, his family said. He had grown close to an Iraqi colonel whom he worked most closely with, they said. He was particularly fond of the colonel's son, who was about the same age as his own son.
"He said they were a good group of soldiers, a proud group of soldiers who appreciated what we were doing for their country," said his father, a retired Eastern Airlines pilot.
Blake Russell once dreamed of also getting into the airline business. But after graduating from Boswell High School in 1988, he enlisted in the Navy.
His eyes weren't good enough for him to become a Navy aviator, so he rode on helicopters as an anti-submarine warfare specialist and search-and-rescue swimmer.
When his enlistment ended, he enrolled at Texas A&M University and graduated in 1998 with a degree in marketing. At the university, an Army recruiter persuaded him to switch from Navy white to Army green.
Capt. Russell had it all, his family said: an athletic build (he was a quarterback and shortstop at Boswell High School), good looks, a wife and children to whom he was devoted, and wit (he taught his Longhorn sister's parrot to sing the Aggie War Hymn).
"He told me years later that a girlfriend had asked him one time why he was such a gentleman," said his older sister Deidra Earle. "He said, 'My sister made me learn how.' He was like that. If he was going to do something, he wanted to do it right."
He married fellow Boswell graduate Bellinda Stine Russell about five years ago. She led the family readiness group for her husband's unit at Fort Campbell, Ky.
His mother, Janice Perkins, said her son was a compassionate and sensitive man who rarely talked about himself. He earned a Bronze Star in Iraq but never told his family why.
"I used to tell him, 'I only got one son but I got the very best one,'" she said.
That side of Capt. Russell sometimes suffered in the war zone. His father said his son e-mailed him in February, unusually frank and emotional.
"I remember exactly what he said: 'I'm tired of the killing, I'm tired of ordering people to kill. When I get back I want to get as far away from death as I can,'" his father said. "I knew something had happened."
On his R&R in May, Capt. Russell told his father what had weighed so heavily on him: the death of Sgt. Matthew Hunter, a medic assigned to his team. Hunter was killed Jan. 23 by a roadside bomb.
"He died in his arms," Ron Russell said he was told.
Capt. Russell started wearing a bracelet with Hunter's name. He wore it every day, everywhere.
"He wore it for the rest of his life," his father said.
Other survivors include his children, Dylan and Haley, and sister Rhona Jesperson.
Arrangements are pending at Thompson's Harveson & Cole Funeral Home. Burial will be in Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. A trust fund for Capt. Russell's children has been set up at Bank of America, Box 528, Fort Campbell, KY 42223.
Chris Vaughn, 817-390-7547 firstname.lastname@example.org