Citadel graduate Ryan Hall's military career took him into the secretive world of intelligence-gathering in the war on terror. On Saturday, it also took his life.
Hall, 30, is one of four Air Force personnel killed in a plane crash in the Horn of Africa, falling some 6 miles short of Djibouti International Airport.
While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, what is known is that Hall became the school's 16th alumnus whose death can be linked to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He was incredibly outgoing, fun, sarcastic, liked to hang out, did not matter who with or where," former Citadel roommate David Barrett said in a statement released by the school.
The plane was returning from what the military called a routine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission connected to events in Afghanistan. Hostile fire was not immediately suspected.
By all accounts, Hall quickly became an experienced flier following his graduation from The Citadel, Class of 2004. He accumulated more than 1,300 combat flying hours on various planes and missions, and was on his seventh deployment, assigned to the 319th Special Operations Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla.
On this last flight, he was on board a single-engine U-28A spy plane, though it is not known if he was the pilot or co-pilot, a spokesman said.
While little is known about the plane in civilian circles, the fixed-wing aircraft is an integral part of the Air Force's stealth and recon arsenal, experts said.
Just like an unmanned drone, the plane can carry a collection of advanced camera and sensor capabilities for following a variety of targets, including for counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and eavesdropping in a volatile part of the world where America's enemies operate.
"There aren't a lot of tourism opportunities in Djibouti," Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, an aerospace and defense consulting group outside Washington, D.C., told The Post and Courier.
Some of the military electronics available, if on the plane Saturday, would allow the flight to track vehicle caravans from great distances away, follow small boats at sea and even trace cellphone calls, Aboulafia said. "Any kind of chatter and squawk," Aboulafia added.
"These planes are good for loitering and low-altitude performance," he said.
At the time of the crash, Hall, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was among the thousands of American service personnel stationed at Camp Lemonnier, the only U.S. military base on the African continent. The base is situated just miles from the lawless pirate sanctuary nation of Somalia.
Hall, whose family status was not disclosed by the Air Force, received his commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
While a Citadel cadet, he was a squad leader and platoon sergeant, and was active with the Lutheran Campus Ministry. During his senior year, he was Delta Company's executive officer, the No. 2-ranking cadet in the company. He also was a member of the 2004 Summerall Guards.
Eight years after leaving the school, Barrett said their bond remained strong. "He's my best friend," Barrett's statement said. "There's not one thing I will remember that I can narrow down to. I will remember a lot."
Hall is the third member of the Class of 2004 to die in one of the two recent conflicts.
The others killed in the crash were Capt. Nicholas S. Whitlock, 29, of Newnan, Ga., with the 34th Special Operations Squadron; 1st Lt. Justin J. Wilkens, 26, of Bend, Ore., with the 34th Special Operations Squadron; and Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., with the 25th Intelligence Squadron.
Funeral arrangements for all the men are incomplete, and no updates were planned until after family members have time to grieve, an Air Force spokesman said Tuesday.