Although his life was too brief at 31 years, Charles A. Ransom ’01 made a mark that is remembered at VMI; around his home in Chesterfield County and Midlothian, Virginia; and at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. He was, by all accounts, height restricted at nearly 5’4”, but nonetheless was very fit and was athletic all of his life. Ransom was a “giver” who was always ready to help others. He reveled in his service to his country, for which he paid the ultimate price while serving in Afghanistan.
Ransom came from a military family. His father, retired Sgt. Maj. Willie Ransom, and older brother, retired Chief Petty Officer Stephen Ransom, were “lifers,” career military in the Army and Navy, respectively. Willie served in Vietnam, leaving a lasting impression on him as a war where Americans weren’t meant to be.
Ransom was born in Richmond, Virginia, and he grew up in Chesterfield County. His mom, Marysue, worked for Owens & Minor Inc., the company of Gil Minor ’63, for 30 years. Ransom attended Midlothian Middle and High Schools. Willie never felt the need to spank his sons; he just talked to them. And unlike most teens, Ransom never got in trouble. He preferred to stay at home while many of his schoolmates partied. From an early age, Ransom was a Christian and was always ready when it was time for church. Willie recalls being outside at his home with a parental drink and smoking a cigarette. Ransom was very young, maybe in the first or second grade, and he urged his father to quit smoking and drinking. Willie did so on the spot. It was evident at a young age that Ransom’s character influenced his elders.
Ransom was a very good athlete and played baseball beginning with Pee-Wee ball through high school. In high school, as a left and center fielder, he earned all-district honors twice and was a halfback on his high school football team while being an exceptional student. His senior class voted Ransom as “Most Likely to Succeed.” Ransom always gave back and, as a high school student, volunteered his time helping patients at the local Johnson-Willis Hospital.
So why did Ransom choose Virginia Military Institute? Ransom and his parents visited Clemson, the University of Delaware, and VMI. Col. Jim Joyner ’67 helped sell Ransom on VMI, and VMI’s small class size was a key selling point. Few teenagers thought that was a key point in college selection, but Ransom was driven to succeed. He did his homework on his college decision. Minor, former VMI Foundation president and VMI Board of Visitors member, wrote a letter on Ransom’s behalf as he saw great potential in him. Ransom later proved Minor’s intuitions were spot on by focusing on academics over athletics at VMI and studying computer science.
Frank McCabe ’01, a roommate of Ransom’s, recalls him running around the stoops being forced to shout out, “Give me back my son.” This was a pivotal line from the Mel Gibson movie, Ransom, wherein Mel Gibson demands his son’s return after being kidnapped. Since Ransom’s last name was Ransom and that was the movie’s title, enterprising 1st Class cadets came up with this devious harassment. Ransom took the harassment with his usual good spirits and mentioned it in his 1st Class yearbook post. There was little mercy at VMI but a lot of humor. Through experiences like these, his brother rats remember his big smile and his great sense of humor. These traits likely contributed to his election as vice president for the Class of 2001.
Another testament to this element of his character, Ernesto Sampson ’98 was Ransom’s dyke (a mentor in VMI jargon) and remembers him as “the nicest guy you ever met. He was cool and laid back.”
“He never got upset and had an amazing outlook,” recalls McCabe. After his rat year, Ransom earned a three-year ROTC scholarship in the Air Force. McCabe remembers Ransom planned to be a lifer in the Air Force and “go for high rank.” Another brother rat, Will Charlet ’01, recalls Ransom as “a gentleman, tenacious, and a leader.”
Willie gives VMI an A+. The discipline was important, as you have “to learn in college,” says Willie. Many of Ransom’s contemporaries partied in college, but he knew his life’s direction would be in the military, and academics was his ticket in.
A common thread from his classmates is that Ransom’s strong character and quiet reliability earned him the vice president position for his class. The class voted after Breakout in April 1998, and for the next three years, Ransom was immersed in class affairs. He served on the General and Executive Committees, enforcing the class system. As vice president, he was tasked with building class consensus while also imposing discipline, at times up to and including dismissal. Ransom often toned down the rhetoric when folks came on strong and suggested “maybe we should,” as he was a consensus builder who always did his best to make sure people were treated fairly and equally. This was especially important, as the Class of 2001 would be the first to have women graduate in VMI’s history.
Ransom held rank at VMI first as a corporal, where he worked with the Rat Challenge, pushing new cadets both physically and mentally. Ransom excelled at VMI, and these traits led to his promotion to platoon sergeant. The very little free time he had was spent as a library assistant.
Ransom graduated just a few months before 9/11. Charles Bunting ’01, class president, recalls that 249 graduated out of the 465 who matriculated. What they wouldn’t know is that this class would be engaged in over 500 combat deployments in support of the War on Terror, and Ransom would be a major contributor, being deployed four times, including both to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Upon graduation, Ransom was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He served with the 83rd Network Operations Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The mission of the 83rd NOS is to “command, control, operate, sustain, and defend assigned Air Force networks to assure global cyber supremacy, enforce Air Force network standards, and to develop Airmen as cyber warriors.” Ransom served his country as a cyber warrior and truly lived up to all the standards of the mission.
Ransom didn’t talk about his work, as much of it was classified. We know he was the 83rd’s plans and operations flight commander. He found time to find a fiancée, Naquita, who was his life’s love, and he wanted a family while hoping to add a Marine to the family so all services were represented. During all of this, Ransom maintained his fitness as a runner and enjoyed spending time with his dad golfing.
Before his final deployment to Afghanistan, Ransom was assigned to the Operations Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. This was followed up with a deployment to the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was an adviser there to Afghan communications professionals. Ransom was sent TDY to the Kabul Airport, and on the morning of April 27, 2011, he reported to the airport’s Air Command and Control Center in the Headquarters, Afghanistan National Air Force. He was to receive training on a new communications encryption system. Ransom would take back this training and implement it back at his home base in Kandahar. He was in a new place and had just arrived the day before, and the people being trained were new to Ransom.
The meeting began at 1000 hours with 22 people in the room, including 14 Afghans and eight Americans. A trusted Afghan in this headquarters named Col. Ahmed Gul entered the room at approximately 1010 hours. “Within 7 seconds,” he fired a burst of shots from a 9mm pistol that killed the eight Americans, including Ransom. Another American heard the shots from an adjoining room and fired on the attacker until his gun jammed. He was also hit and died of his wounds, making nine killed in this attack. None of the Afghans were killed, as they were not the target. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
This was the deadliest green-on-blue attack of the Afghan War. A green-on-blue attack is the NATO term that refers to an insider attack where an Afghan attacks a NATO member.
The original investigation found that the attacker had anger and financial issues, which led to the attack. It was further reported that he killed himself. As families of the slain demanded accountability, additional investigations occurred. There remain unanswered questions, but the likely story is that the shooter was part of an Afghan Air Force network that moved people and drugs around Afghanistan using U.S.-supplied aircraft and fuel. Just days before the attack, U.S. Air Force officers stopped this process which angered the attacker and his sponsors. These Air Force officers were in the meeting and were among the dead. The attacker was killed by Afghan guards who would not claim responsibility out of fear of retribution. The halting of Afghan shipments led to the attack, which was likely ordered by senior Afghan Air Force officials. Ransom was likely not aware of any of this background.
Willie viewed film of the aftermath of the attack and spent much time in the Pentagon listening to the results of the investigation that followed. He found out that many Afghans failed to report for work on the day of the shooting, so they likely had advance notice. All the Americans killed were armed with long guns and pistols, so the possibility of multiple shooters is feasible. Willie also feels that Americans should have learned from the Vietnam experience that they were not wanted in Afghanistan, and maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Green-on-blue attacks would continue in Afghanistan, with the peak year occurring in 2012 when 44 attacks occurred—up from 16 in 2011 when Ransom was killed. The number of coalition casualties due to green-on-blue attacks was 345 through 2017.
Willie and Marysue received a knock at their door from the chaplain and commander of Ransom’s unit at Langley Air Force Base. This is the worst visit any family could receive. Ransom’s friend, Kenny Carmichael ’01, notified the class and gave the eulogy at his funeral. The church was filled, and approximately 150 people stood outside. The Class of 2001 issued a statement remembering Ransom, which included part of a speech Ransom gave after the class finished their Breakout from the Rat Line in 1998, “Charles promised he would be a fighter for all of us. He was.” Ransom was buried in the same Baptist churchyard where he passed by en route to church for so many years. Following his death, he was promoted to major, as he had been on the promotion list. His awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Combat Actions Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and NATO Medal.
Ransom’s memory is kept alive by a number of memorials erected since his death. His class at VMI honored Ransom with a plaque in the VMI Memorial Garden. Chesterfield County, Virginia, named a street, Major Charles A. Ransom Way, in his memory. Ransom was a member of American Legion Post 186 in Midlothian, which is now the Major Charles A. Ransom Post 186. Langley Air Force Base also remembers Ransom and others killed that day with a memorial run. Finally, his high school in Midlothian has a memorial to Ransom.
Ransom lived only 31 years, but he left so many strong memories with his friends and classmates. Bunting remembers his “wonderful sense of humor.” Carmichael remembered him as “one of a kind and custom built” in his funeral eulogy. Aaron Mitchell ’01 remembers Ransom as a cadet who “couldn’t be broken” and was so “very fit.”
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Mark Long worked with Ransom daily in Afghanistan. He remembered Ransom as an “honorable and positive person. … Nothing seemed to rattle Charles Ransom. … He had an inner peace that few have. … Charles, I miss you. … You were an inspiration, and I think of you all the time, my friend.”
Willie would like Ransom remembered as a Christian and for his dedication to duty during his military service. VMI honors this hero who was everybody’s friend.
Editor’s Note: Jim Dittrich ’76 is the VMI Alumni Association historian. He lives in Williams-Junction, Arkansas, near Perryville. Thanks to Willie Ransom and the Class of 2001 for their memories.
Jim Dittrich '76 Alumni Association Historian