FORT KNOX, Ky. - Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr., commanding general, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, completes 40 years of service to the U.S. Army in the city where it began. The logistics general’s career came full circle as he delivered the commissioning speech to the Army’s newest officers at the City University of New York Reserve Officers Training Corps commissioning, June 6, 2023.
The commissioning speech was one of his last official community engagements leading up to his change of command ceremony, June 23, after which he will retire.
Delivering this speech at CUNY was an honor for Russell. “This is unbelievably humbling and exciting at the same time,” he said.
Russell is a distinguished military graduate from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and was commissioned as a second lieutenant from Fordham University ROTC in New York in May 1987.
However, his Army career started a few years earlier when he first enlisted as a field artilleryman into the Army Reserve in 1983. Embracing everything the Army had to offer, Russell knew then that serving something larger than himself was what he wanted to do. He enrolled in college and began his journey to earn a commission and become a leader.
“My parents pinned me to second lieutenant, and I was immensely excited about an unknown future that awaited me,” he said about that day.
Returning to New York was impactful for Russell. “I spent my formative years in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and most of my teenage and early adult memories are from there,” he said. His mother, a “die-hard New Yorker,” still lives in Brooklyn.
The general shared a memory from when he was a cadet in New York and was chosen to join a community leader being recognized at the time. “I was selected to be on stage while Muhammad Ali received the Ellis Island Award,” he said. Ali is one of only three people to receive the award for his work in the Black community.
“Conducting the 2023 CUNY commissioning ceremony fills me with the same excitement and curiosity about the future I had when I took my first oath and pinned on second lieutenant bars,” Russell described.
“Except this time, I can participate in the time-honored ceremony of elevating young college graduates to the level of young, commissioned leaders in our Army. Our country is in great hands with the caliber and conviction of our young officers graduating from the CUNY ROTC program,” he praised.
Russell was also inducted into the ROTC Hall of Fame at the ceremony. “This is an honor bestowed upon me, but it is accepted on behalf of the thousands of selfless Soldiers, DA Civilians and Families with whom I have had the privilege to work with and for,” he humbly added.
Russell also described the important role his wife played throughout his career. “I have only ever wanted to be the best version of myself and live the Army Values every day. However, I would not have ever realized this level of career success if not for my muse, my wife and best friend, Sieglinde Gruber-Russell,” he said about his life partner.
The retiring general applauded the many amazing teammates with whom he served throughout his career. “Everyone and everything have left me with an experience that shaped me into the leader I am today,” he said.
“No one person is an island in our Army,” he explained. “It takes a village to grow a general.” Russell acknowledges that he would not be where he is today, “if not for some very attentive mentors who filled in my knowledge gaps and shared their experiences when I needed guidance,” he said.
“I often tell my teammates that I wasn’t born with two stars on my chest; at age 16, I started with a PFC patch on my collar,” he added. “I have been truly blessed and fortunate.”
The retiring general describes his career as improbable. “That me, a young man of color, growing up in Brooklyn in the 70s and 80s, would have a 40-year career that spanned multiple countries, commands, and combat tours across the entire globe,” he stated.
Russell described his introduction to the Army at age 16. “The words I associate with my career come from the commercial I saw on TV while watching a football game. It showed Soldiers jumping out of a helicopter,” he described. The slogan used was ‘We do more by 9 a.m. than most do all day’.”
“I am forever grateful for having seen this commercial, because 40 years later, I can testify that in our Army, you can ‘Be All You Can Be!’"