Family and fallen hero from Loganville honored in Dollywood for his service and sacrifice

Sgt. Randall Rusnak, of Loganville. Contributed photo

Not all fallen heroes lose their lives on the battlefield. Some pass away after battling the wounds for days, months and even years. Some of the wounds are physical and some are not, but they can all be attributed to the sacrifices made fighting for our country. Such was the case of Loganville fallen hero Sgt. Randell Rusnak who served in the U.S. Army from 2001 to 2004 and was deployed to Iraq before serving in the Georgia National Guard. During his time in Iraq, he sustained injuries that eventually took his life on Nov. 3, 2011.

“He died from injuries from deployment. He was exposed to the burn pits while in Iraq and it caused a multitude of problems like enlarged heart, backed up liver and a mass from his sternum to his belly button. While they were working diligently to fix those issues, he had a stroke and passed,” said his wife Kristi Nykole Bennett. “He did pass stateside at St. Joseph’s in Atlanta.”

Newborn Laney Rusnak. Contributed photo

At the time of his death, the 32-year-old Loganville resident had a 3-month-old daughter, Laney Rusnak. Although she recently remarried, Bennett has spent the last eight years making sure her daughter got to know her father. This past weekend, they were able to travel to Dollywood for a Survivor Appreciation Day that honored her late husband, as well as her father, Joseph “Joe” Ballenger” who had served in the Navy. The event was sponsored by Taps, Survivor Outreach Services, Humana and Dollywood.

“My late husband passed away when my daughter was 3 months old so we try and do all the events we can so his name lives on. She just turned 8. We still live in Loganville,” said Bennett who remarried in April this year. “This whole situation has truly made me learn how quickly life changes and not to waste any of it. So I do my best to try and pick up the pieces and find a new normal for ourselves.”

According to his obituary, Rusnak was a Past Master of Lawrenceville Masonic Lodge #131 F. & A.M., member of Order of the Eastern Star and Order of the Amaranth. He was also a member of Lawrenceville VFW Post 5255. Bennett said she was honored and humbled by the ceremony they experienced in Dollywood this past weekend honoring those who have served.
“We were incredibly honored to take part in the Dollywood experience. Losing a spouse, a Dad, and a soul mate is one of the hardest things anyone will ever face but when you do things to honor those people, it keeps their memory alive. We will always do what we can to honor him,” she said. “Seeing the pictures of all of the fallen heroes really touched us. The feeling of being surrounded by a room full of people that have lost everything is incredibly humbling. We were grateful to be asked to participate.”

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