In November 2019, a memorandum of understanding was executed which established the Drew Ross Leadership Scholarship. The scholarship honors the life and service of U.S. Army Capt. Andrew P. “Drew” Ross, who was killed in action in November 2018 while serving with 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province.
Although Drew Ross was a 2011 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, his ties to VMI and Lexington were strong. He is the son of Stephen T. Ross ’83, a longtime soccer coach at the Institute, and two of his great-uncles are alumni as well: Bobby Ross ’59 and Donald S. Ross ’74. Furthermore, like many coaches’ sons, Drew grew up to a large extent on a sideline – in this case, the VMI soccer team’s. Ed Davis ’92 remembered a young Drew:
“He would often come to practice with his dad, and all the players would give him high fives and pass him the ball when they could. We all just enjoyed seeing his energy, his smile and his relationship with his father.”
Drew went to West Point with every intention of continuing to play soccer, and he did during his plebe year. At the end of his plebe year, he decided leave the team and concentrate his physical efforts in the weight room. As his father put it, “That decision meant leaving a game he loved and to which he had devoted so much of his life, but it was a sacrifice he felt he needed to make to become the leader he wanted to be.”
While he might have left the West Point soccer team, Drew never stop believing in the concept of a team. It wasn’t just the camaraderie – although Drew did value that. He understood that a team was greater than the sum of its parts and that, by applying their talents in a common purpose, a team could accomplish important, sometimes great, things. This, coupled with his drive to excel, to count himself among the best, is why he decided to join a truly elite team: The U.S. Army’s Special Forces.
When soccer alumni learned of Drew’s death, they were uniformly shocked and saddened by it. They also were galvanized into action. As Douglas Bartlett, longtime head coach of VMI lacrosse and current vice president of the VMI Keydet Club, recalled, “Having known Steve and his family for decades, Drew’s death had a major impact on me as it did on alumni who knew the Ross family. As well as our profound sense of loss, we shared a desire to do something in honor of Drew and his family, something that shows the immense respect we have for them and their sacrifices.”
Beginning at Drew’s funeral service, Bartlett and a small group of alumni – the aforementioned Davis along with Alexander Alston III ’92, John Arthur ’79, Mark Hannan ’94, Courtney Lambert ’92 and Matt Ott ’92 – began to float ideas about the best way to do so.
After much discussion, the group concluded a scholarship at VMI would be a proper tribute to Drew and his family. The next decision to make was the purpose of the scholarship and who it would support.
It was Hannan who first proposed that the scholarship focus on leadership and being an Army Ranger. He had attended Drew’s Ranger School graduation in the company of Stephen Ross and, as Ross said, “Mark understood what that took to get through that program.”
As Davis put it, a leadership scholarship made sense because Drew epitomizes what a leader should be. “He was competitive; had very high standards; was the ultimate teammate; selfless in his actions, his sense of honor, and his commitment; and deeply believed in family and country.”
“We saw the scholarship as promoting the values Drew Ross exemplified – purpose, trust, teammates,” said Ott, “values that would inspire cadets to be like Drew and commit themselves to the cause of our nation and its defense.”
Alston added, “Drew’s leadership philosophy clearly reflected that of his father. It was team-oriented. It demanded that you act as a motivational force, and it was underpinned by a commitment to something higher. So, this idea offered both a means to honor Drew, support our coach and acknowledge the commitment to doing something important that is common to the entire Ross family.”
Stephen recalled his reaction to the development of the scholarship’s purpose. “Initially, I was highly honored. It means a lot to me that so many of the young men I coached and others cared so much for Drew and understood what he was all about. But I wanted to make sure Drew would be honored in a manner that would matter to him. When those who wanted to commemorate Drew came up with the concept of supporting a cadet who had the goal of becoming a Ranger, I was totally in and very excited.”
As to the Institute being the place at which his son was honored, Ross observed, “While Drew didn’t attend VMI, many of the things he learned as a leader came from his time growing up around cadets and other VMI people. They helped to make him the leader he was.”
Now fully endowed, the Drew Ross Leadership Scholarship will be awarded to a 2nd or 1st Class cadet who exhibits the same traits that Drew displayed as a leader – selflessness, dedication to duty, devotion to others, a desire for excellence – and who will commission in the Army and who is determined to become a Ranger. In honor of Drew’s local roots, the first preference in award will be to cadets from Rockbridge County. The Army ROTC department – with assistance from VMI’s financial aid office – will determine the scholarship’s recipients.
As to what is expected of the scholarship, Hannan perhaps expressed it best.
“I was able to process Drew’s death by understanding how he had lived the life he had chosen. He understood the risks of being a battlefield leader, yet he saw his profession as a noble one, and he knew his place in it as a leader. He lived by a simple credo, ‘Never Falter, Never Quit.’ He is the type of person who should be, who needs to be, remembered. His is a name that deserves to endure forever. The hope of everyone involved in this project is that the scholarship’s recipients look at for whom it is named and strive to emulate his traits as a leader when they themselves become officers.”
To contribute to the scholarship, please go to vmialumni.org/give and enter “Drew Ross Leadership Scholarship” in “Designations” when making your secure gift, or mail a contribution to VMI Foundation; P.O. Box 932; Lexington, Virginia 24450 and indicate the gift is for the Drew Ross Leadership Scholarship.
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.