2004-01-30 / Front Page

Local Man to Entertain American Troops in Iraq

By Brendan Brosh
Local Man to Entertain American Troops in Iraq By Brendan Brosh

Fallen Firefighter Stephen RussellFallen Firefighter Stephen Russell

Rockaway resident Clifford Russell is heading to Iraq. The engineer turn ed rock and roll front man is leading a group of musicians to perform for military service people in the war torn country and other area hotspots.

Motivated by the loss of his brother on September 11, Russell will be leading "The Stephen P. Russell Memorial War Tour" over 21 days to Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Qatar, Bahrain and Djibouti.

After a year and a half of hard work, Russell is grateful for the opportunity to go to Iraq. "I called the Pentagon and the Speaker of the House’s office once a week asking for permission to go to Iraq."

Russell’s journey began in August 2002 when he was invited to a party in Barrington, Illinois, home of Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House.

Clifford Russell performs with actor Steve Buscemi. Buscemi used to serve in the same firehouse as Stephen Russell in Little Italy.Clifford Russell performs with actor Steve Buscemi. Buscemi used to serve in the same firehouse as Stephen Russell in Little Italy.

"After meeting Denny Hastert, I was really intent on entertaining the troops in Iraq," says Russell. "I didn’t want to go to the Bahamas."

Originally Russell wanted to go to Afghanistan, but as the United States prepared for war with Saddam Hus sein, however, Russell sought to go to Iraq instead. After the World Trade Center tragedy, Russell views this as coming "full circle."

He ultimately secured permission on November 18, 2003 from the Pen tagon.

Despite his desire to entertain troops, Russell still needed to organize a band. "After 9/11 I met this guy Joe Cantifao who walks around Chicago playing his guitar," says Russell. "He’s a former stock broker who used to manage bands for Dick Clark."

Russell called Cantifao and gave him the task of finding a band. Cantifao delivered with a five man group called "Jade."

The band will be playing a two and half hour set of cover tunes including songs by Bruce Springsteen, U2 and the Beatles. Russell will be fronting the band for five songs.

"I flew out to Chicago last week and after a few rehearsals I found out that I’m not a good singer," says the 48 year-old father of four.

Brother Stephen

While Russell is excited to tour with the group, he never forgets to remind himself why he’s going. "The whole root and reason why the band and I are going to Iraq is for Stephen, my brother."

With five years between them, Cliff and Stephen were close growing up in their family home in Arverne just off Jamaica Bay.

A talented carpenter, Stephen Rus sell was known for building his own furniture. As much as he loved being a firefighter, he also loved the time off that he could devote to his love of carpentry.

An eight-year FDNY veteran, Steph en Russell worked at Engine 55 on Broome Street in Little Italy. The firehouse lost five on September 11.

Getting There

Russell will travel to Chicago before he embarks for Iraq to meet up with the band. "We fly out of O’Hare Airport on February 5", says Russell. "And we’re traveling with a thousand pounds of equipment."

Although he’s nervous about the overcharge for excess baggage, Russell notes that the tour is not about money. "Myself and the band are going to Iraq out of our own pocket," says Russell. "It’s been a calling of sorts for the past year and a half."

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