Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell commanded the unit that was a central player in the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. LTC Russell speaks across the country, rallying the American public to support the troops with victory, not just words. In November, was elected to the senate in his home state of Oklahoma.
Congrats on your recent election to the Oklahoma State Senate. What led to your decision to run for office?
I am still asking myself that question! Seriously, I recognized when I came home from a lifetime of service to my country that the only thing that stands between good government and bad is the type of person who runs. People are so cynical about elected officials, and I wanted to continue to serve locally and try to make life better with the skills and experience I have gained over the years as a soldier.
What are the biggest issues facing Oklahomans that you hope to impact?
I don’t think Oklahoma is much different from anywhere else in our country really. As a national speaker, I have talked to Americans all across the country and hear very similar concerns—accountability of our tax dollars, less government intrusion in our lives and an expectation of lawmakers to provide the things we expect from government such as public safety and decent education at the most reasonable cost.
As a key player in the hunt for Saddam Hussein, why do you think that the U.S. had more success capturing Saddam than we have capturing Bin Laden?
It is a question I often get. You have to remember that Saddam was very active in his role trying to inspire an insurgency and relied on a series of family networks to harbor him. Because of this, he was well protected, but he left a trail of activity that we were able to follow. Osama is different. He has no contact with his family (who has disowned him), takes an elusive role and works by proxies from one of the most remote and isolated regions of the world. Consequently, his ability and Al Qaeda’s to influence Islamic sentiment and world affairs has been greatly diminished. So, on the one hand, he is hard to find but on the other, he has become more and more irrelevant other than as a murderous wanted criminal. Should he become more active, I believe he will be found.
What was the most difficult part of capturing Saddam?
For us, it was unraveling the family network that protected him. We had pieces of a giant puzzle that we were eventually able to tie together. Through great cooperation with conventional and unconventional forces, we built a responsive team that was able to act very quickly as time went on. But for every success, there were 20 times that we came up with nothing, and we also had to contend with a very violent insurgency at the same time.
Other than the capture of Saddam, what is the greatest achievement that we’ve had in the war on terror?
I think it is the realization that there are radical elements that still abide in our world and that we will always have need to take a stand and face them. Our nation has stepped up to that challenge in this generation with its men and women in uniform, but we have been less successful with commitment and fortitude at home.
What is the greatest obstacle currently in the war on terror?
I still believe the biggest challenge we face is our commitment at home. Recent trips to Iraq have only confirmed this. We are winning the war, and we must honor the sacrifice that has made that possible by letting our soldiers finish the job. We are almost done with the hard part.
What do you say to those who are weary of war or don’t believe that victory is possible at this point?
I would say talk to 100 different combat soldiers that have served in places like Afghanistan and Iraq over the last several years. What they will hear will not only inspire them but should change their mind.
As a veteran, what do you think that we can do to better support our troops when they return home?
Veterans don’t want to be pitied. We do want to be productive and active in the country whose very freedoms we helped defend. I suppose for me personally, it will be to make sure we were able to do the job our nation asked us to do without having it pulled out from under us as by folks back home while we tried to do our best. If we are forced to fail when we know we could have succeeded, the well-meaning people at home will have torn a hole out of us that will never be healed. But if our mission is accomplished, it will be to give us an honest shake as we try our hand in civilian pursuits once we return home.
As a Christian, what role did your faith play on the battlefield?
My faith was absolutely essential for me to keep a moral frame of reference. Because of it, I could see local people as human beings and keep them separate in my mind from the enemy. That is essential. If we cannot see others as human beings, we begin to regard them as less human and that is replete with problems and consequences. My faith allowed me to see people as individuals that were in tough circumstances and to treat them with a bit of fairness and it also allowed me to sleep with a clear conscious when I knew I had to take the life of those that only meant harm and destruction and wished to kill. I have written much on this and have a very personal and surprising presentation on the aspects of killing and faith.
When seeing the horrors of war and terrorism, was it ever hard to maintain your faith?
I recognized that there would also be evil in the world. Someone has to stand guard and keep tyrants, terrorists and criminals from taking advantage of the innocent and defenseless. At times, it can tear your heart out to see such horrible human suffering. But in many ways, it drives you further to get the job done and ease the suffering as quickly as possible. Our soldiers are doing that today and in very tough circumstances with an enemy that does not abide by any code of ethics designed to protect civilian life and property. Still, I world tell my soldiers that we would not become them and would maintain our ethical standard. You must. And as I came home, I have had some tough thoughts, dreams and times, but I have not ever lost my faith. I have only seen it grow stronger.
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