EG’s Russell Knight retired from the U.S. Navy on Friday after 30 years of service in a ceremony at the Naval War College in Newport on the lawn sweeping down to Narragansett Bay. By proclamation of the State of Rhode Island, June 22 was "Captain Russell P. Knight Day."
It was only fitting.
I met Russell Knight the night he returned from his tour of duty in Afghanistan in December 2001. I’m pretty sure he had no recollection of me after that encounter, but I sure remembered him. That’s because he was just back from the initial invasion of Afghanistan following Sept. 11.
A group of us in the Hill neighborhood had decided to go out caroling and a couple members of our group said we just had to stop by a house on Peirce Street. They knew the family, who were returning to EG after living in California for a few years and the wife, Mary Lou, had made the move herself with her two children because Russ had been called up to fly missions over Afghanistan.
We got to the house, rang the doorbell, and waited. But it wasn’t Mary Lou or the kids (Colin or Kellie) who answered the door. It was Russell, just home from his tour in a early, just-in-time-for-Christmas surprise. We were awed and sang a couple of carols with gusto (if not a lot of talent!). He was our own hometown hero.
In subsequent years, I got to know Russ Knight more. He was the one we all turned to after the invasion of Iraq, when our children were asking questions about “dirty bombs” and chemical weapons. He actually met with a group of families at a neighbor’s house to reassure our children (and us, truth be told) that we would be all right, that our country was prepared.
When I asked him about his tour in Afghanistan before the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, Russ played down his role, saying he got there just as the air attacks were ending. That was classic Knight (Mary Lou’s a master of it too) – things that are a big deal to the rest of us are no big deal to them. They are just what you do.
Russ grew up in Warwick and entered the U.S. Navy as an aviation officer candidate in 1982 after receiving a bachelor of science degree in civil/ocean engineering at URI. He received his commision from Aviation Officer Candidate School in August 1982 and was made a naval aviator in June 1984.
Russ completed U.S. Naval Test Pilot School to become a test pilot in 1989. He returned to the school as a fixed-wing flight instructor. In 1997, Russ earned a Masters degree in national security and strategic studies at the Naval War College.
Among his jobs, Russ served as commanding officer of the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron 147 from June 2000 to December 2001. During his years with the Navy, Russ participated in combat operations over Libya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
The Knights were dug deep in the fabric of the East Greenwich community when Russ was assigned the commander post of the Naval Air Station … in Meridian, Mississippi. Most of us had never even heard of the place. But the Knights took to their new adventure with gusto. Even Kellie, who was about to start high school, was okay it. Navy families – this Navy family anyway – are nothing if not adaptable.
The Knights left East Greenwich in August 2005. Again, fate put them right in the middle of history. Just days after the family moved in, Hurricane Katrina bore down on the region. Russ and the NAS played a big role in helping residents out for weeks and months afterward.
They stayed until 2008, when the community of Meridian reluctantly let the Knights return to Rhode Island. He was the deputy/chief of staff of the Naval War College at the time of his retirement.
Russ is the kind of person who's busy even in his leisure time. He built a garage and mudroom for their house on Liberty Street, finishing up just months before the house next door (long coveted) came up for sale. So the Knights moved again – right next door.
Some wonder what the heck he will do with himself now that he's retired. In the short term, he's got , for which he's president this year. Beyond that, somehow, I'm not worried. Russ will think of something.