NCO Academy, Joint Base remember fallen Soldier
ASA-Dix Public Affairs
The staff of the Army Reserve Non-commissioned Officer Academy at Army Support Activity-Dix were joined by the Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst community as they paid tribute to a fallen comrade at the Dix Main Chapel, May 4.
The chapel packed to capacity Tuesday afternoon as the cadre of the academy bade farewell to Sgt. 1st Class Mary Russell, a native of Rome, N.Y., who died as the result of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident at ASA-Dix April 20.
Deputy Commandant of the NCO Academy Sgt. Maj. McClinton Brown, a resident of Chicago, told those gathered at the memorial service, "Sgt. 1st Class Russell died doing what she loved most, riding her Harley. We can't bring Sgt. Russell back, but we can remember the good times we shared with her."
Capt. Randal Johnson from Army Reserve Readiness Training Command at Fort McCoy, Wis., remarked, "Sgt. 1st Class Russell walked the walk of the Warrior Ethos and embodied the backbone of the Army. She is now promoted to the highest rank she will ever hold. She is at peace with God."
The elements of the service, which included a flag folding ceremony, expressed the respect that Russell's comrades had for her.
After the academy commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Peter Brooks, shared words of encouragement with those in attendance, especially Russell's co-workers, he called 1st Sgt. Roy Waters to conduct the last roll call. Waters called out names of Soldiers assigned to the academy. They acknowledged their presence as they were called and then he called out, "Russell…Sgt. 1st Class Russell…Sgt. 1st Class Mary Russell."
When the first sergeant made his final call for Russell a bugler sounded Taps. Tears filled many eyes as the tribute to the fallen was played.
The Soldiers from the NCO Academy approached the altar where the folded flag lay on a table behind the traditional Soldiers Battle Cross – an inverted rifle, a pair of boots and the Soldiers helmet. In unison, three or four at a time, they rendered honors by performing a last salute while Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes.
Brooks said during the service that Russell was a Soldier in the U.S. Army and a professional who gave herself selflessly to her unit, the Army and her country. He also said she was a woman of character who willingly rolled up her sleeves and got the job done, leading by example, teaching, guiding, doing every day that which she expected from her Soldiers, professionally and with competence.
Russell served in the Army for nearly 30 years touching countless lives. She left a lasting impression with her students and all that she served.
"Her optimism was remarkable. She always saw the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. When we had students fail on the land navigation course she would tell me, 'Its okay command sergeant major, we will recover tomorrow,'" said Brooks.
Waters, a resident of Wauconda, Ill., said, "As the Test and Control Officer for the academy she improved program processes. She was able to get the tests and scores out to the cadre and students in a quick and efficient manner. She was very diligent, professional and always on time. As a riding buddy, I noticed that she had a great rapport with many people around the joint base and army support activity. She genuinely cared about people."
Those closest to Russell remember a determined and compassionate NCO and friend who would not let anything keep her from accomplishing her goals.
"Sgt. 1st Class Russell was always sincere. She never let her diminutive stature keep her from doing anything. She was the first person I met here at the academy back on Feb. 26, 2003. We got along really well. She was a great comrade," said Sgt. 1st Class Dwight Crutchfield, the NCO Academy operations NCO, who is a native of Hopkinsville, Ky. "Whatever Russell said was always in black and white. She was a very professional Soldier. Whatever challenges came her way, Sgt. 1st Class Russell attacked them with vigor and determination. What really inspired me about her was that she always remained calm, even in the toughest of situations. She wouldn't get out of shape. She had a great impact on me and taught me that nothing was really that bad."
Russell was a medical logistics Soldier who served in locations around the country and world including, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. A veteran of Desert Storm, she is a recipient of the Kuwait Liberation Medal, Saudi Arabia/Kuwait Liberation Medal, and the Southwest Asia Service Medal.
Two hitches at the NCO Academy at Fort Dix/ASA-Dix allowed Russell to build a lot of friendships in New Jersey. Probably her closest friend at ASA-Dix was Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Wright, a basic NCO leadership instructor with the academy. The San Antonio, Texas resident recalls first meeting Russell and having to receive a dressing down from the vertically challenged NCO.
"When I first met Sgt. 1st Class Russell, myself and another female instructor had been involved in a pretty demonstrative argument in the hall. She ended up calling us into her office and telling us to lock it up. I thought, 'Who is this pip-squeak of an NCO to yell at me, but she was pretty convincing. She let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she expected us to be professional at all times. That was the end of that. She became a mentor to me. There aren't too many senior female Soldiers at the academy. She stepped up to the plate, took me under her wing and straightened me out," Wright said.
"We liked to ride our Harleys together. We were the only two females riding Harleys at Dix. She pretty much taught me how to ride. One day when we were riding out on Range Road, I remarked how my bike was much bigger than hers and that it was a true hog. Hers was small so I said it was a piglet. That's how she got the nickname piglet. We always joked about it. Even when we rode she watched my back. She would make me take lead so she could keep an eye on me," she added. "She was my dear friend. Not only have I learned a lot professionally from her but she taught me a lot about life. She was always motivating. She endured a lot on her own, yet was always there for me and others. I will never forget her. Her Soldiers will always love her."
Russell had a favorite verse from the Bible that epitomized her drive to serve. It was Isaiah 6:8, "I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me."
Brooks fittingly closed Tuesday's memorial service with instructions to those assembled and to his fallen NCO.
"Follow Mary Russell's example; respect the lives you touch, the legacy you leave in the Army and with your family and friends. As did she, live well and enjoy life, decently and with purpose," he said.
Then he concluded, "Farewell Sgt. Russell, you were a true NCO and have accomplished your mission. We are certain yours was a life well lived. In your uniform and with that smile on your face, rap loudly now on the door to heaven, and report to your new Commander-in-Chief."