Honor Stories: Helena Area Army Veteran Mike Russell Completed 2 Vietnam Tours | Local

CURT SYNNESS For independent recording

U.S. Army Sgt. Major Mike Russell (retired) has spent 28 years of combined service in the armed forces. He completed two tours during the Vietnam War, two stints at Fort Harrison, and won multiple decorations, culminating in the Legion of Merit award.

Russell, whose ancestors helped found the town of Lincoln, is also the past president of the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers Association. His great-great-grandfather Robert John Patterson arrived in what is now the Lincoln area in 1863 from Scotland with his friend Thomas Sloan.

“The two men came via Horn Landing in San Francisco and rode into Montana with a pack mule,” Russell, 73, said in a recent email from his ranch near Helena. “They were placer miners and got rich at Lincoln.

“My great-great-grandfather signed the original papers naming Lincoln, ‘Abe Lincoln Gulch.’ Patterson Prairie and Patterson Meadows were named after him and his sons.

Mike’s father, Bob Russell, graduated from Helena High in 1941, before moving to Southern California. In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, Bob joined the Army Air Corps. He served as an officer and glider pilot in the United States.

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Mike Russell graduated from James Monroe High in Sepulveda, California in 1966, where he played “football” for the Vikings.

Mike entered the military in March 1967, completing his basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon graduation, he was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama for his advanced individual training as an OV-1 Mohawk crew chief. After graduating from AIT with honors as the No. 2 in his class, he served the next six months at Fort Rucker in tutoring.

In February 1968, Specialist 4 Russell was sent to the Republic of Vietnam. He was assigned to the 1st Aviation Brigade, 210th Combat Aviation Battalion, Long Thanh North, and served in Field Forces II, northeast of Saigon and south of Long Bing.

After extending his service for a second tour, he then served a total of 19 months in Vietnam. Sergeant (E5) Russell returned to the United States in October 1969 and was honorably discharged after fulfilling his legal duty of service.

“I performed many air support and air surveillance missions for the army ground troops and Vietnamese forces,” said Russell, who received the Army Commendation Medal with V device for gallantry. for his service in Vietnam. “I saw a completely different culture of people and got to know them and what it meant to them that we were there.”

After 16 years of civilian life, Mike re-enlisted in the Army in June 1986. He was stationed in Vancouver Barrack, Wash., with the Army’s 104th Training Division and later the 6229th USAR School, mentoring soldiers in their military occupations as an instructor.

From 1989 to 1996, Sgt. First Class Russell served in the Montana National Guard, Fort Harrison, with the Montana Military Academy as an instructor and administrator.

“Mike’s main strengths were teaching, advising and advising SCO candidates, with staff and non-commissioned officer courses,” Colonel Lonnie Cook recounted. “I was a young E5 back then, and whenever I had a problem, he was always there to guide me.

“As a Vietnam veteran, Mike learned the hard way to provide on-the-job training. It felt like he was always first on the job and leading from the front. I would say Mike’s overall strength was his ability to mentor junior staff.

Russell was then assigned to the 88th Ready Reserve Command, Fort Snelling, Minnesota, from 1996 to 2003, where he was assigned to operate the mobilization site for two years. In 1999, he was promoted to sergeant major.

He was awarded the first of two Meritorious Service Medals on December 1, 2003. It reads in part, at the 88th Regional Readiness Command, “January 5, 2003 through April 11, 2003, to Sergeant Major Michael L. Russell, for his extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to this command while serving as the NCO in Charge of Soldier Readiness Process, 88th Regional Support Command, during Operations Road to War I through IV.

“His vast knowledge, expertise, total dedication, attention to detail and meticulous planning ensured the treatment of over 14,000 troops and mission success…command units and soldiers for Operations Iraqi Freedom, Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom.

His second MSM, presented Jan. 18, 2005, states that Sgt. Major Russell, “Displayed leadership, vast knowledge, and outstanding performance in preparing units and soldiers for deployment in the Global War on Terror… Sergeant Major Russell’s truly exceptional service is a credit to himself and the United States Army.”

Russell returned to Montana in 2003, where he completed 28 years (including active duty, reserve, and National Guard status) of service with the 456th Reserve Command, Operations Office, Fort Harrison, retiring in 2005.

Mike, who has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage, has been married to his current wife Debbie since 2008. They own and operate the M bar R Ranch, breeding and training horses and Australian Cattle Dogs, also known as the name of red and blue heels.

On February 22, 2005, he received the Legion of Merit award, reading “For exceptionally meritorious service in key leadership positions spanning a 20-year career culminating as Sergeant Major, Deputy Chief of Staff , G-1, 88th Regional Readiness Command.

“His unwavering integrity, sound judgment and consummate professionalism earned him the utmost trust, loyalty and dedication from those who served with him.”

Curt Synness, a Navy veteran, can be reached at 406-594-2878, or [email protected] He is also on Twitter @curtsynness_IR

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