Active-Duty IC Alums Reflect on Their Military Service

By Kerry C. Regan, November 11, 2021
Championing diversity and inclusion.

If anyone was within earshot of the two military officers greeting one another that day in Quantico, Va., they might have gone on high alert hearing one proclaim, “Go Bombers.” But this wasn’t a military order. It was IC alumnus U.S. Army Major Jason A. Porter ’09 introducing himself to U.S. Marine Colonel Ricardo T. “Riccoh” Player ’89.

Player was a guest lecturer at the Marine Corps University where Porter was studying for his Master of Military Studies degree, and Porter arranged an introduction.

“You just don’t hear about people from Ithaca College going into the military—especially ethnic minorities from Ithaca College,” Porter said. “I realized how much we had in common. We just kind of hit it off.” 

Both joined the military immediately after graduation and neither expected more than their minimum stint in the service. However, both have made the military their career and drawn upon their IC experiences to take unconventional paths to their leadership positions, championing diversity and inclusion all the while.

“Growing up, Veterans Day didn’t really have that much meaning for me, and I’m kind of ashamed to admit that. But being in the military now, I live it. I realize there are a lot of folks who have sacrificed their time and/or their lives. Wars have helped enable the life that we live here in America. Sure, we have challenges and improvements to be made, but I wouldn't trade it for any other place.”

U.S. Army Major Jason A. Porter ’09

Rising to the Occasion


What’s he saying now?—Ricardo T. “Riccoh” Player ’89, left, appears to have the rapt attention of Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, second from left, and Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, Torie Clarke, foreground. At the time Player was Rumsfeld’s public affairs officer for international travel. (Photo submitted)

Player recently became the first public affairs officer to achieve colonel command in the Marine Corps. Today, this Park School grad is in charge of the headquarters and service teams supporting the Marine training depot at Parris Island, S.C. He likens his job to that of a city manager, “making sure the trains run on time.”

Accomplishing that has been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Col. Player has responded by using four different sites to quarantine training-ready recruits prior to boot camp, safeguarding the training cohort against Covid spreads. As a result, Parris Island operations have stayed on track, training about 20,000 recruits since the pandemic struck.

It’s not the first time Player has risen to the occasion. While working in the Department of Defense Public Affairs in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, he set up a fully operational press center at an alternate site within hours of the attack on the Pentagon. 

Culture Shock

While becoming an officer was not Player’s childhood dream, becoming a Marine was, in part because his family had a military legacy. He wanted to join right out of high school in East Cleveland, Ohio, but his guidance counselor encouraged him to make something more of his strong acting and debating skills. Those skills along with competitive grades and his minority status qualified him for a scholarship at Ithaca College.

He majored in corporate communications because it offered a wide range of courses in radio, television, public speaking, producing and directing that were “right up my alley,” he said. Indeed, his strong debating skills earned him the Roberta Barnett award for outstanding forensics in his junior year.

“Talk about culture shock,” Player said. “Most of the faces I grew up around were brown or black. At Ithaca, most folks were much lighter skinned than me. There were no issues, and everyone was nice. It was just different.”

That Old College Nickname

Col. Ricardo Player got his nickname, Riccoh, from a prank in his IC dorm. Some of his dorm mates thought it would be fun to send him mail order catalogs addressed to Riccoh Player, in “honor” of Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, one of the characters on the then-popular television show, “Miami Vice.” They sent lots and lots of mail order catalogs.

“The more I complained, the heavier my mailbox footprint became, so I just stopped complaining and embraced it,” Player said.

Names continued to be an issue in the military when he became a major—Major Player—leading the media he interacted with at the time to have some fun with the name.

Forging His Own Path

Tensions were growing in the Middle East when Player joined the Marines, and in 1990 he was deployed in the first Gulf War’s Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. At the end of his deployment, his commander recognized his leadership potential and recommended him for officer training. His superiors steered him to public affairs, to take advantage of his IC education.

Player not only got the promotions expected of most high-achieving public affairs officers, but he took on some exceptional tasks. Among those: public affairs officer for international travel for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld after 9/11, and as a Congressional Fellow at the Chicago Tribune.

Throughout his career, he also has consistently championed diversity—in his current role he is his command’s Lead Diversity Officer.

“Diversity is everyone's job, but I take a vested interest in it because some of the diversity numbers for the Marine Corps aren't where they need to be yet,” he said. “And as a commander, I think I set the tone.”

Player strives to be a role model.

“I'm a walking advertisement for diversity anywhere I go,” he said. “Whenever I get a sideways look, I don't take it personally, because it's rare for someone to see someone like me in my position, unfortunately, but I use that as an opportunity to address any concerns, answer any questions or curiosity, and to enlarge the dialogue. So hopefully, anyone different than the majority will see me and say, ‘Hey, perhaps I can take those steps as well.’”

From Football to the Military


U.S. Army Major Jason A. Porter ’09. (Photo submitted)

Porter followed a different path to the military. A multi-sport athlete in high school, he was mainly interested in playing football when he came to Ithaca College. However, injuries slowed his progress, and he began investigating the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“I really didn't have a plan about what I was going to do after college,” Porter said, “And the more I learned about ROTC, I realized that it was a perfect opportunity, financially, to finish paying for college, and to have a stable job upon graduation.”

His IC football experience rewarded him with lifelong friendships, and his academic pursuits—he majored in sociology—have also resonated during his military career.

“I was really passionate about sociology,” he said. “It was a great foundational opportunity for me to learn about my leadership, about people and how cultures interact, and what makes people who they are. I think it’s played a massive role in my leadership ability in the military.”

A Mission with Purpose

Like Player, Porter was deployed soon after training, providing logistical support in Southern Afghanistan. About a year in, his mother was diagnosed with what proved to be terminal cancer, and he transferred to a recruiting role at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, so he could support her in her final months and days—another purposeful mission.

Following that, he completed pre-Ranger training while in the Army Captain’s Career Course, which landed him in Special Forces. Both his Morristown, N.J., high school and his army logistics organizations had diverse populations, he noted, but Special Forces was mostly white males.

“That’s what got me to dive deeper into this problem of diversity in the military,” Porter said.

One of his deeper dives into the culture of the military occurred when he became an assistant professor of military science at the University of South Carolina’s Army ROTC program, focusing on providing guidance to minorities interested in the military. Following that stint he pursued his master’s degree at Marine Corps University—the place where he met Col. Player—and wrote his thesis on organizational culture in the military and the lack of diversity in Special Operations in the Officer Corps. 

“The organizational culture of the military had been built on systemic barriers, such as segregation,” Porter said. “What was formal policy back in the day perpetuates in systems and beliefs that still hold true to some extent today.”

To rectify that, Porter says the military has to take deliberate actions at the policy level to ensure that the pipeline is cultivating talent in a way that creates military forces to be more in line with the demographics of our nation.

Finding His Own Way

Much like Col. Player, Major Porter is finding his own path to success in the military. Seeking the assistant professorship at the University of South Carolina, for example, was something many of his colleagues discouraged him from doing, saying it would slow his advancement.

“But it was one of the biggest blessings of my career to have the opportunity to teach and help young men and women get on a trajectory for success,” Porter said.

Porter appreciates what the military has allowed him to accomplish.

“I grew up pretty poor in New Jersey, and I’ve been able to travel the world and work with some really awesome people,” he said. He plans to “go the distance and retire” from the military.

Until then, Porter is focused on his current mission. Serving with the Third Special Forces Group, he is in charge of about 15 people and provides support to another 2,500, working to combat terrorism in Northwest and East Africa by partnering with local military forces in contested environments.

Porter’s perspective includes an earned appreciation of veterans.

“Growing up, Veterans Day didn’t really have that much meaning for me, and I’m kind of ashamed to admit that,” Porter said. “But being in the military now, I live it. I realize there are a lot of folks who have sacrificed their time and/or their lives. Wars have helped enable the life that we live here in America. Sure, we have challenges and improvements to be made, but I wouldn't trade it for any other place.”