Our souls are shattered as we say goodbye to Russell Feala, who was taken from us after a long and valiant struggle with PTSD on September 12, 2018.
Russ was born July 27, 1978 and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He had a difficult childhood and spent a lot of his early life feeling alone and unloved by the people who raised him. Anxious to leave, in 1998, Russ joined the Air Force. His bravery and grit quickly led him to Special Forces as an Air Force Combat Pararescueman. He was very humble about his time served even though he was one of the Elite. After he was honorably discharged for serving his country, Russ spent time in Upper Michigan rebuilding a cabin that he loved. There he spent quiet and reflective time with his son Eryk and his beautiful daughter Heidi Ann, who he affectionately called Hildegard. She held a very special place in his heart. Her fondest memory of her dad was when he carried her from his car to the cabin, half asleep, while she listened to the crunch of his boots in the snow.
Russ started his career as a firefighter after his military service - first as a contractor in Kuwait and then returning to the US at the Tooele Army Depot in Utah, where he spent the past 13 years doing a job he excelled at and making lifelong friends that will always protect him and carry his memory. His family celebrated his hard earned-promotion to Fire Captain with him in 2016.
In 2006 at the Army Depot, Russ was introduced to his captain’s daughter, Brittany Thomas. Russ and Brittany quickly fell for each other and were married in 2007. They have two beautiful children together, Lucy Jean (10) and Aleksander Thomas (5), who were the most meaningful and joyful part of Russ’s life. He loved his children with every bit of his soul. He cooked them big, delicious breakfasts and every year went to Bear Lake to spend fun and heartfelt time together. Russ’s “Little Goose” Lucy will treasure memories of buying comic books, going to the farmer’s market, and watching This Old House with her dad. Aleks was Russ’s little “Sasha;” they enjoyed camping, fixing his old truck, and going to Disneyland together.
Russ made a lasting home and family for himself in Utah where he was fully loved and cherished. He found a family that accepted, wanted, and adored him and he loved them immensely in return. His genuine smile and affection made him an instant friend to all who knew him. Russ was famous for his bear hugs (which could be nearly crushing sometimes!) and a habit of giving nicknames: “Hollywood” for his Marine grandfather-in-law and “Little Chicken” for his niece Branwyn who adored him and his affectionate teasing. Russ also cherished the rare times he was able to spend with his brother Aaron and nephew Ivan.
His gypsy soul was often dreaming of visiting new places and he loved learning about other cultures and languages. He was especially proud of his Czech heritage and often spoke and read to his children in Czech. He looked forward to competing in the Scottish Highland Games every year - the perfect venue to celebrate both his Scottish ancestry and his love of physical fitness. He was incredibly strong and loved spending time at the gym lifting weights.
Russ was generous and kind with both people and animals. When his dog Max took off after a deer on a hunting trip, Russ walked for miles and miles and hours and hours searching for him, heartbroken to lose him. He had finally given up and returned to camp only to find Max patiently waiting for him. Russ was always quick with an offer to help and his friends and family knew he genuinely cared about them.
The void Russ’s death leaves in the lives of his children and family is immense, but so is the love he gave them in life. He was an amazing father who cherished his children, Heidi, Lucy, and Aleks, and wanted everything good for them that he never had. We will miss him always. He was the greatest love of our lives.
If you know someone who is struggling with PTSD or depression, please take active steps to intervene when you hear a cry for help. Remember, not all wounds from war are visible.
Friends and family are invited to a viewing and celebration of Russ’s life on Friday, September 21 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at Starks Funeral Parlor, 3651 S 900 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84106. Guests are encouraged to use the complimentary valet parking provided on the north side of the building.
Graveside service with Honors will be held Saturday, September 22 at 11:00 a.m. at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 1342 E 500 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84102.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Feala Children Memorial Fund at any Mountain America Credit Union.