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No greater love
Veterans Park ceremony honors three fallen Night Stalkers
The family of the late Michael Russell pause a moment at the flower cross. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Memorial Day

Michael Russell's family uncovers his marker and places a rose.

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Memorial Day 2

Shelly Vandevoorde and Deborah Cisneros with the 3/160th Special Operations Aviation Battalion's family support group place a rose on Shamus Goare's marker.

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Niko Vandevoorde remembered Michael Russell’s dry wit as they searched for something to kill the spare time they had in the Afghanistan desert.

Vandevoorde, Russell and some of the other members of the “Night Stalkers,” the 3rd Battalion of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment based at Hunter Army Airfield, were trying to build a volleyball venue.

“Mike said, ‘We won’t have any problem finding sand for the sand pit,’” Vandevoorde recalled.

On Memorial Day, Russell, Staff Sgt. Shamus Goare and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Wright were remembered at Veterans Park in Springfield

Russell and Goare were on board on an MH-47 helicopter, a Chinook modified for special operations duty, when it was shot down near Asadabad, Afghanistan, on June 28, 2005. All 16 aboard the Chinook — eight Night Stalkers and eight Navy SEALs on their way to rescue four comrades pinned down by enemy fire — were killed in the crash.

Wright, a pilot with the Night Stalkers, was killed when his Chinook hit a television transmission tower and crashed outside of Moultrie almost exactly a year ago on a training mission to Fort Rucker, Ala.

All three men lived in Rincon while they were stationed at Hunter.

Command Sgt. Maj. Vandevoorde, the top enlisted man in the Night Stalkers, knew Russell for several years. They served in the same platoon and shared a love for the giant and ungainly Chinooks.

“I remember Mike and I talking right after the devastation of 9/11 and how outraged we were,” he said. “We knew we would find ourselves with a mission.”

Twelve days later, they were headed overseas as the global war on terror began. Soon, they were on the front lines in Afghanistan and later served together in Iraq.

“He always had a way of making people laugh,” Vandevoorde said. “He always talked about his girls back home.”

Russell’s widow Annette and their two daughters, Lauren and Megan, were at the service Monday to unveil a stone in Russell’s honor at Veterans Park.

Vandevoorde also knew Goare for several years, having been his platoon sergeant and later his first sergeant.

“Shamus was a quiet individual, a hard worker and would take the shirt off his back to help you,” Vandevoorde said. “I don’t believe the word ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ was in his vocabulary.”

Russell was a door gunner on the Chinook that crashed in Afghanistan, and Goare was a flight engineer on the rear door.

“These soldiers believed in leaving no one behind,” Vandevoorde said. “When the distress call came, they jumped in their gear, got into that ugly machine and attempted to rescue our warriors downrange. These soldiers loved to fight, fought to win and would rather die than quit.

“Special operations soldiers cannot be mass produced and quality is definitely better than quantity,” he said. “We need specialized, hardcore realistic training."

Vandevoorde recalled his longtime association with Wright, who joined the 3/160th a few weeks before Vandevoorde did.

“I would fly around the world with Michael Wright,” he said. “Awesome pilot, awesome friend.”

Wright’s family, including his stepson, Spc. Michael Dixon, who is also a Night Stalker, placed flowers in a cross dedicated to the Russell, Goare and Wright.

“They gave their lives doing what they love to do,” Vandevoorde said. “They are truly missed. Through events such as this, they will never be forgotten.”

To Dixon, the memorials at Veterans Park for his stepfather and the other two members of the Night Stalkers are appreciated.

“It means a lot,” he said. “There’s been a lot of stuff done, but to have something to see whenever I want, it’s special.”