Acting Director of Defense Media Activity Retires: Who Is Melvin Russell?

Sunday, May 06, 2012
Melvin W. Russell, who created a stir in military circles in January when he proposed moving the Pentagon-funded but editorially independent newspaper Stars and Stripes from downtown Washington, DC, to rural Fort Meade, Virginia, served as acting director of the Defense Media Activity (DMA) from October 2009 until he retired on April 30, 2012.
DMA, formerly known as the American Forces Information Service, is the communications media propaganda arm of the Department of Defense, employing 2,400 active duty military, civilian, and contract personnel at 8 U.S. locations and 33 permanent overseas sites.
Born circa 1939, Russell earned a B.S. in Chemistry and Secondary Education at Texas A&M University in 1961, and an M.A. in Television and Film Production at the University of Texas in 1970.
Commissioned in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program in 1961, Russell served more than 22 years as a Signal Corps officer. Early career assignments included Fort Hood, Texas; Naples, Italy; and Hue, Vietnam. After earning his M.A. in TV and film, Russell was assigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he ran the television, film, and radio facilities for the next three years and made the first Army conversion form black-and-white to color.
From 1973 to 1975, Russell served in an exchange program with the British Army, where he established the first television facility at the engineering department of the Royal Signals School. After serving two years at the Pentagon as a senior staff officer responsible for Army audio visual activities, in 1977 Russell took command of the Army Audio Visual Activity, which he ran for almost five years. In 1981, Russell became the assistant director of the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), serving in this position until his military retirement in 1983, when he became the operations manager for D-K Associates, an audio-visual firm in Rockville, Maryland.
In 1984, Russell returned to AFRTS, this time as director, and became acting director of DMA in October 2009. He also served as the senior manager of Department of Defense visual information, web, print, new media and broadcasting.
Russell counts among his most satisfying achievements arranging for members of the military abroad to see live television broadcasts from the United States, including sports events, beginning in the 1980s, eventually reaching Navy ships at sea in 1997. Today AFRTS provide eight TV channels and twelve radio services.
“The bottom line for me,” he said in a farewell interview, “is that when you go overseas, you don’t leave the States behind. You need to feel that connection. So if you are in Afghanistan at an outpost, you should be able to watch a live NFL game.”
“I’ve been unbelievably lucky in life,” he concluded, “being allowed to do what I love doing and getting paid for it. I don’t see how you can beat that. You just can’t.”
-Matt Bewig, David Wallechinsky

Face of Defense: Official Recalls AFRTS Milestones (by Donna Mills, Armed Forces Press Service) 


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