It is with great sadness that the Next Century Foundation reports the death of Colonel Richard T Ryer, one of the three founding members and trustees of NCF USA. Col. Dick Ryer was America’s most decorated pilot, having flown more missions in the Vietnam war than any other flyer. He was a great hearted man who dedicated his life to helping others. The following is edited from a tribute from his closest friend, NCF Trustee, Ambassador Mark G Hambley:
The sun rose a little less brightly over the Emerald Coast on Thursday morning, Veterans’ Day, following the death on 10 November 2021 of Richard T. Ryer of Fort Walton Beach. A loving husband to Linda for over forty years, and the doting father to Perri, Dick made friends and fostered dreams for countless individuals he encountered and nurtured during a long military and politico-military career and an equally lengthy and eventful involvement in the private sector.
Dick retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel following 27 years of active duty. He was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and received an M.A. in National Security Affairs and Middle East Studies from the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterrey. He studied Vietnamese, Arabic, Spanish, and Tagalog at the Defense Language Institute and the Foreign Service Institute. He was a command pilot with over 5,000 flying hours.
Colonel Ryer began his Air Force career as an Intelligence Officer, specialized training which served him well in subsequent military and civilian security assignments, This training led to a posting with the USAF Office of Special Investigations (OSI) as a Special Agent with the OSI Detachment in DaNang, Vietnam. Here he worked under Dennis Crowley, Jr. with whom he would develop a close friendship which would lead to the co-founding of Apollo Security almost 25 years later. Dick subsequently succeeded Dennis as the Special Agent-in-Charge of the DaNang detachment.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Dick completed flight and fighter aircraft training — part of which was completed here at Hurlburt Field under the tutelage of several officers who would become USAF legends, including Major General Richard Secord. Dick subsequently returned to Vietnam for a second tour of duty, where he flew as a combat pilot with the 603rd Special Operations Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base, flying 333 combat missions in the A-37 Dragonfly. In acknowledgment of these exploits, he was awarded several medals and commendations, including three Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism in combat flight operations.
From 1974 to 1977, Dick served as an Air Officer Commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy where he helped prepare the way for the first female cadets. Following this tour, he was selected for post graduate studies in Monterrey where he met the love of his life, Linda. They were married in May 1979, and with Dick’s imminent appointment as the Air Attaché to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, they essentially celebrated their honeymoon in Jeddah where they met their life-long friends, Mark and Patricia Hambley.
After two years in the Kingdom, Dick reported to the Headquarters, United States European Command, in Stuttgart, Germany, as a security assistance and training staff officer. From 1982 until 1985, he was the Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Montevideo, Uruguay, where our inveterate air aficionado and his adventurous spouse sailed around an especially stormy Cape Horn with the Uruguayan Navy.
Following this assignment, Colonel Ryer was named as the U.S. Defense and Air Attaché to the Philippines and served in this position until 1989, earning the prestigious Defense Superior Service Medal in the process. Awarded by then Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, the citation commended Dick for leading his team, in a dangerous and hostile environment, on a series of often perilous missions during an attempted coup attempt. Their endeavors were described as an example of how high quality, professional activities should be carried out — lessons which would serve Dick well in the corporate world.
Upon his retirement from the Air Force, Colonel Ryer traveled extensively outside the United States, first for various government agencies interested in his Special Forces knowledge and skills and, later, as a private consultant before joining Apollo Security as a founding partner with his close friend from his OSI days, Dennis Crowley, Jr.
For the next 25 years, Díck would work tirelessly to help his company expand from a domestic guard services company to one with wide-ranging global responsibilities and outreach. This latter effort started early on with a 1993 proposal with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior to train its personnel in a full range of protective and defensive skills.
During the following years, Dick would work with others to develop Apollo’s unique overseas offerings, changing the company’s name to Apollo International Security reflective of its new global profile. In particular, these offerings included the development, for the first time in the U.S. security industry, of an all-encompassing, international security package which, in effect, offered participating companies with opportunities to trade in their existing, expensive corporate security operations for cost-effective, home-grown Apollo surrogates.
In turn, these Apollo operatives offered their proven skills and local knowledge to their clients to handle anything from routine plant visits by corporate executives to far more complex and dangerous operations involving labor disputes, work place violence, or possible evacuation scenarios where their access to local political and law enforcement individuals often proved invaluable. The underlying premise of this package that ‘one size does not fit all,” proved popular with a wide range of companies, from Fortune 200 behemoths to smaller, ‘new to market’ investors/traders who were attracted to Dick’s ideas for a pro-rated payment schedule which could be adjusted upwards or downwards on a regular basis, depending of the type and level of security activity required.
Following the sale of Apollo in 2016, Dick gathered a few special friends from his past and a number of new faces from the Emerald Coast and beyond to start a new venture called SocoSIX Strategies, LLC, to build upon the success of his military and Apollo experience. As the sole owner and shareholder in the company, Dick looked upon SocoSIX as an opportunity for a new generation to jump-start their careers in the potentially lucrative but highly competitive world of global security.
Covid19, Dick’s failing health, and some genuine nastiness which was outside his control constituted severe challenges for a while. But he was comforted during his final weeks to see that his vision is being realized by a dedicated team of younger professionals who have dedicated themselves to ensuring that his legacy will live on.
Despite all of these many accomplishments as an athlete, an officer, a student or an entrepreneur, to all those who had the privilege to know and to work with him, Dick Ryer was very much a larger than life individual. Countless individuals in Fort Walton Beach and beyond can speak to the kindness and generosity which marked Dick’s approach to the world around him. Many can offer personal testimonials about Dick’s spontaneous gestures of support during particular low points in their lives. He was a man whose personality flowed from his actions more than his words, although he spoke with a powerful eloquence on the meaning of leadership, honor, and duty on those occasions where a few pearls of genuine wisdom were required.
Dick was born into a small nuclear family without siblings in a small town on Long Island, New York. His father, Vince, and mother, Helen, pre-deceased him, as have most of his relatives, although he was especially fond of his cousin, Tim Neville and his wife, Camella, who still live in New York.
In contrast, Linda’s extended family, and the people both in the U.S. and around the world who considered Dick as a part of their family, too, is vast and number in the scores, if not in the hundreds. It is not unusual to find parents naming their children “Richard” in honor of their friend. But churches and schools also bear his name in parts of Africa and Asia.
To say that he will be missed is a very sore understatement. To say that he will be remembered with great fondness and happy memories will hopefully, over time, remove some of the sting from his absence.