Four Citadel Class of 2004 have died at a time of asserting themselves
When a fourth member of The Citadel’s Class of 2004 was killed Wednesday in the war on terror, it got former school President Bud Watts thinking: “What was the common link?”
Then he remembered back to several of the officers he knew of who had been killed in action in Vietnam.
Just like The Citadel men, the Vietnam officers were in their mid-20s to 30 — ages where former greenhorns are expected to emerge as fully trained leaders. That was the story of the Class of ’04.
At this point in their military careers, they would “be in places that would expose them to hazardous duty,” said Watts, Citadel president from 1989-1996 and a retired Air Force lieutenant general.
Wherever they were sent, Watts said, it would be their time and place for “asserting themselves.”
Of the 17 Citadel men killed since the events of 9/11, four have come from the 435-member Class of ’04. They were students who started their educations before the attacks but saw their life plans altered as a result. Two made it to captain; two were lieutenants.
Their manner of death also correlates with the hazards that have been so prevalent in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan — roadside bombs, hostile action and accidents.
February 2006: Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Almar LaRon Fitzgerald, 23, of Lexington. “Fitz,” to his friends, died at a hospital in Germany days after being subjected to a roadside blast in Iraq. He had been “in-country” for about six months before he was wounded in Al Anbar Province.
November 2008: Marine Capt. Warren A. Frank, 26, of the Cincinnati area. He was killed while distributing humanitarian aid in a province north of Baghdad. His team was in Ninewa Province when it came under small-arms fire from an attacker dressed in an Iraqi soldier’s uniform.
February 2012: Air Force Capt. Ryan Hall, 30, was one of four people killed in a plane crash in the Horn of Africa, falling some 6 miles short of Djibouti International Airport. He was on a highly secretive intelligence-gathering mission.
Wednesday: S.C. Army National Guard 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl, 30, of Lexington, died in Khost, Afghanistan, when a bomb exploded on a busy street. He was one of three S.C. Army Guard military police killed as a suicide bomber attacked a convoy. At least five other soldiers with the 133rd Military Police Company were wounded.
Jared Kohl, a member of the Class of ’04, said the deaths of the four classmates has been a sobering experience, especially in the age of Facebook and other media that spread the report of Rawl’s death so quickly.
“It’s a horrible loss and another blow to our class and the Citadel community,” Kohl said Friday.
The weight of the four didn’t start to mount so heavily until Rawl’s fatality was reported, Kohl said, making it the second 2004 death in five months. “We went a couple years there with no casualties in our class,” he said.
After graduation, Kohl wanted to join the Air Force but his slot was taken. He opted for the business world but remembers being close to three of the four Class of ’04 men.
Watts said Friday he hoped the lessons taught at The Citadel are being properly absorbed by the Corps of Cadets as the world changes.
“I’m sorry that we’re having the casualties, but that’s what we’re trying to instill in our cadets,” he said, and that “all of us pay a price.”