Greg Russell is a seriously conflicted man.
On one hand, he is saddened to be leaving a community he has served and loved for nearly two decades. On the other hand, he is looking forward with all the exuberance of a young boy to launching himself on a grand new adventure.
Russell, 44, a Soldotna police officer since August 1982, will be sworn in as Kotzebue's new chief of police March 13. Still, he said, it's not easy to leave the town he's been intimately involved with for the past 18 years.
"There isn't a neighborhood or a street or a block in this town that hasn't affected me," Russell said.
He said he's always been proud of the sense of community in Soldotna, the way the town works with its police and of the department itself.
"I think I've had the privilege of working with some of the finest people in the world here," he said. "I just hope people understand the deep sense of gratitude and appreciation I have for this community.
He wasn't looking for a new job when the new job came looking for him three months ago. He turned the position down twice before a Kotzebue city official came to Soldotna, made the pitch for Russell's services and set the hook on his prize.
"The move isn't something I was planning. I was recruited," Russell said.
Before beginning work for the Soldotna Police Department, Russell was a member of the Southcentral Alaska Narcotics Team, he said, and held a special commission as an Alaska State Trooper.
"It was my job to go out into the community and buy drugs," he said. "When a position became available at the Soldotna Police Department, I jumped at the chance."
When Russell came on board at the department, Anchorage Police Chief Duane Udland was chief in Soldotna.
"When I took the job, I had every intention of staying forever," Russell said. "I had such high regard for the community and the department."
Since then, he said, the community and the department have come a long way. Russell said he is proud of the services the department is able to offer the public and the direction the agency has taken.
"When I started here, the department was more reactionary. But since then, as officers have become more involved in the community, the department has moved to a more proactive approach."
Beckie Horton, who was the department's secretary and evidence custodian for nine years, said Russell was, in many ways, a leader in community involvement.
"He's a very bright guy and a real go-getter," Horton said. "Over the years, he was always involved in some sort of community activity."
Russell was instrumental in starting the Shriner's Fun Run from Soldotna to Anchorage, Horton said. The run is part of a national fund-raiser for children dealing with orthopedic problems or burns. Russell also was active in the United Way and helping area youth, she said.
"I know that every parent with a troubled child would come to Greg first," Horton said.
From the beginning, Russell said, he had good training in community involvement.
"My early mentor was Investi-gator Bill Mallotte, who told me, 'You can be the kind of officer that just rides around in cars, writes tickets and responds to calls, or you can be the kind of officer who knows every trail, every dead end, everything there is to know about his community."
Mallotte died of cancer in the mid-1980s, but his legacy lives on in Russell.
"If you walk into a room, there should be a positive response from people -- except for the ones that are up to no-good. And they should be worried," Russell said.
Russell flew to Kotzebue last week and came away with an almost predictably positive response.
"I was near a school when the kids got out. There was about a 12-below wind chill, and I saw all these happy kids with pink cheeks running home or hopping on four-wheelers," Russell said. "It was a lot of fun, and I thought to myself, 'I could fit in here.'"
Russell's last day with the Soldotna police will be March 3. He and his wife, Jeanette, and the two children remaining at home -- Sarah, 14, and Josh, 12 -- will fly to Kotzebue March 11. Russell has two other children who will not accompany him -- Chris, a 20-year-old college student in Texas, and Ginni, 18, who will graduate from Cook Inlet Academy this spring.
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