Name: W. Ralph Basham
Family: Married with three adult children and 12 grandchildren.
Years in the Golden Isles: 22 years on and off. We moved here permanently three years ago.
Give us some background information on your career path: In 1970, I joined the U.S. Secret Service as a Special Agent in Washington, D.C.. After 28 years, I retired as an Assistant Director to be the Director of the FLETC, replacing Charles Rinkevich (which I must say was a hard act to follow.) Following the horrific attacks on 9/11/2001, I was asked to return to D.C. to help start up the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as its first chief of staff responsible for overseeing the conversation and staffing of the 429 airports. Quite frankly, (it was) the most rewarding position I held in government, to see so many people who were willing to sacrifice both personally and professionally to answer the call to get our country back on its feet. Judy and I planned to return to the Golden Isles following the startup of TSA but we had to put our plans on hold when President Bush (43) asked me to return to the U.S. Secret Service as its director in 2003. Our plan was to serve the President’s first term then return to St. Simons Island, however, the President then decided to nominate me as the Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S., and again our plans to return were put on hold. Moving to the CBP after the Secret Service was like running an agency the size of a Swiss watch to running Big Ben. CBP was dealing with huge challenges including illegal border crossings, drugs and human trafficking. We doubled the size of Border Patrol, built 670 miles of fence and equipped all U.S. Ports of Entry with technology to combat future terrorist attacks. I retired in 2009 from the government and formed Command Consulting Group in D.C. leaving in 2020. We finally made it back to the Golden Isles after many failed attempts, following our daughter and her family’s lead.
School: Southeastern University, Washington D.C.
Who or what inspired you to work in law enforcement: My next door neighbor talked me into applying for the Secret Service. I wish I could say it was for the greater good to fight crime and deliver justice for all, but it was “OK, sounds good, I’ll try that;” taking an opportunity that was presented.
What is your favorite story related to any of the presidents you served? I have had so many incredible experiences throughout my career, it is difficult to single out a “favorite.” I will say one of the most challenging and memorable experiences would be the secret mission in 2004 by President Bush to Baghdad, Iraq, on Thanksgiving Day. At the time I was the Director of the Secret Service. As it was the middle of the Iraq War, the idea was not, in my mind, a wise thing to do, which I expressed to the President and the White House staff. After several hours of discussion and voicing my concerns, it was clear to me the President had made his mind up and it was time to start planning. Everyone understood that the mission had to remain secret due to the circumstances on the ground in Baghdad. About a dozen people were read in for the mission. In D.C. it is impossible to keep a secret between just two people (even with one being dead) let alone a dozen but it was critical to the security of the President and traveling party that secrecy be a priority. It would be lengthy to go into all of the details for this article but I can say it was accomplished as planned. I cannot express in words the emotions I witnessed and felt seeing the faces and reactions of our men and women in uniform when they realized the President was there in that Quonset hut to celebrate Thanksgiving with them – something I will never forget.
What was the deciding factor for choosing to retire in the Golden Isles? We first moved to St. Simons Island in 1998 to join FLETC. We immediately adjusted to the slower pace having come from Washington D.C.’s crowded and hectic lifestyle. When we transferred back to D.C., we decided to “keep our toes in the sand” as the saying goes, here and bought a condo on the island. We have always enjoyed the weather, the pace, but most importantly the warm and wonderful people we have come to know. Our daughter Paige and her husband Mike moved here several years ago, which added to the many pluses. Our dog Mason loves the park and benches, he refuses to move. He is a big fan of the golf cart too.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? My 11th grade teacher once said to me “Ralph, you will learn a lot more in life when you are not talking.” My wife Judy reminds me quite often that listening has never been one of my strong points.
On the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, how did your world change after that awful day? As you can see from my career, 9/11 changed our lives in a very personal and professional way. Just like everyone who witnessed the horrific events of that day, we will never forget how it has changed all of our lives.
You were running lead for President Bush during the G8 Summit. Why was Sea Island chosen and describe some of the security measures implemented during the summit? For me, as the Director of the Secret Service, Sea Island was an easy choice for the location of the G8. First of all, it is an island where all access can be totally controlled. Many of the White House staff were familiar with Sea Island facilities and its ability to provide accommodations for the heads of state and their support personnel. There were and are numerous military installations nearby to provide logistical and security assistance from the air, sea and land. Sea Island had Carl Alexander as its head of security who I knew, and had the utmost confidence in knowing he would provide every resource he had available to ensure a safe and secure environment for the summit. Some of the security measures included offshore naval support, air support from Hunter Air Force Base, and transportation support from Fort Stewart. Shutting down the Sea Island Causeway to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. A helipad to transport dignitaries from Hunter AFB to Sea Island to alleviate traffic disruption on SSI. To be clear, we did not place alligators in the marsh as was reported by some news outlets. It was a great effort by all parties involved, not the least of which was Jack Hartman, President of Suntrust at the time, who shut down banking operations to provide a staging area for vehicular and pedestrian traffic screening onto the island. Additionally, Bill Jones along with the Sea Island team provided a welcoming and secure environment for the gathering of the leaders and staff to the Sea Island G8.