PULLMAN, Wash.–Retired U. S. Air Force Gen. Robert D. Russ, head of the Air Force tactical unit during the Persian Gulf War, died May 22 of cancer in Shalimar, Fla. He was 64.
Russ was the 27th recipient of the WSU Regents Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor the university bestows on one of its graduates. The award was presented in 1992.
The Portland, Ore., native and Wapato High School graduate earned a degree in business administration in 1955 at WSU, where he was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.
Gen. Russ was commanding officer of the 120,000-member Tactical Air Command, now known as the Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., before retiring in 1991. At that time, he was the ranking general in the Air Force, one of only 12 four-star generals. He later became president of R. Russ and Associates, Inc., a defense and aerospace consulting firm in Alexandria, Va., before moving to Florida in 1995.
The career military officer earned a commission at WSU through the AFROTC program. He completed a master’s degree from George Washington University, was a distinguished graduate of the Air Command and Staff College, and a graduate of the National War College.
Gen. Russ spent his last six years on active duty as Commander of the Tactical Air Command, delaying his retirement because of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. He stayed on until Operation Desert Storm was completed. The TAC forces provided the major element of air power employed in The Gulf War. During his tenure with TAC, his quality management initiatives led to more than a 25 percent increase in productivity throughout the command.
Russ’ earlier duties included overseeing research, development and acquisition at Air Force Headquarters. As the Air Force’s primary spokesman on all new systems, he frequently was called to testify before Congress.
In 1967-68, during the Vietnam War, Russ flew 242 combat missions, including 50 over North Vietnam. On one mission, his F-4 Phantom II was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, but a helicopter crew rescued him.
Russ was uniquely honored with the award of the Distinguished Service Medals of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Each citation paid tribute to his major contributions to the successful outcome of Desert Storm. Among his other military decorations and awards were the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 13 oak clusters and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
Survivors include his wife, the former Jean E. Johnson of Spokane, a 1955 WSU graduate in fine arts; two sons, Randall and Robert, all of Shalimar, Fla.; and one daughter, Robin Dell Russ Lindenmeier, a 1983 WSU grad in education, Richland.