More than four years after he helped catch one of the most wanted men in the world, Lt. Col. Steve Russell gave a first-hand account of the investigation and ultimate capture of Saddam Hussein at the Marvin Center Tuesday night.
Russell was the commander of the 1st Battalion of the 122nd Infantry, a unit that was involved with Operation Red Dawn, the official hunt for the former Iraqi dictator.
“I never imagined my unit would play a central role in the capture of Saddam Hussein,” Russell told the crowd.
Russell noted that the successful capture on Dec., 13, 2003 followed a number of unsuccessful attempts, and that he was surprised when he received a call from his superiors telling him that Hussein had been taken into custody.
“We had been on the big one many times,” Russell said. “Dec. 13 will always be one of the proudest days of my life.”
Russell also touched on some of the more negative aspects of his time in Iraq, including an increasing negative view from the media on the Iraq War.
“At times the media questioned our tactics,” Russell said. “We should never be apologetic as Americans for taking a stance for freedom.”
This sentiment is aligned with one of the main objectives of Students Defending Democracy, the group that organized the event.
“Democracies always have the right to defend themselves,” said junior Claire Meyer, chair emeritus of SDD.
Christina Johannes, SDD co-president, helped organize Monday’s event in cooperation with the GW Veterans. Russell spoke to a group of around 50.
“We opted to bring [Russell] in because it gives a different perspective,” Johannes said, adding that “SDD is nonpartisan, so it’s very important that the speaker is concerned with the extension of democracy.”
Graduate student Ellen Baugh attended the speech and asked Russell a question on his stance on the current Guantanamo Bay controversy. He replied that he would rather hold military tribunals than close the prison.
“Though he was excellent and just such an honorable man who couldn’t be a better representative of our soldiers . I’m not sure the president will agree with him on the Guantanamo issue,” she said.
Other students asked Russell about issues that ranged from ground-fighting to more light-hearted topics such as, “What did you do with all of Saddam Hussein’s cash money that you found?” which drew laughter from the crowd.
Junior Elizabeth Neely said she attended the event to understand more about world affairs.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in one point of view and it’s important to hear the other,” Neely said.
Russell ended his address with an passionate call-to-action for GW students and Americans alike.
“I believe that Americans must sacrifice along with its soldiers. Sacrifice doubt, anxiety, cynicism . sacrifice any notion that will cause us to come home as losers,” he said.
The headline in the print edition misstated Lt. Col. Steve Russell’s rank as Lieutenant.