IC Thinkers, Doers, and Explorers in the Military

By Kerry C. Regan, October 28, 2022
Alumni and current students make their mark

If anyone had been within earshot of the two military officers greeting each another in Quantico, Virginia, they might have gone on high alert when one said, “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 Corps 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.”

Indeed, the military representation within IC’s student body is relatively small. Pre-COVID, the college averaged 10 to 12 students enrolled in Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and about the same number of enrolled veterans matriculating. Those numbers were cut by half or more during the pandemic and are just starting to rebound.

IC has a lot to o!er to those interested in—or coming from—the military, said Christina Moylan, IC’s associate provost for graduate and professional studies. Students can learn military-specific leadership development, management skills, ethics, and strategic planning in the ROTC program offered in collaboration with Cornell University. Veterans can take advantage of benefits, like the GI Bill that covers tuition fees, and the network of veterans who work at IC, including those on the Veterans Day Celebration Committee. “

Ithaca College is not a place for coasters or checkthe- boxers,” Moylan said. “We’re a natural home for thinkers, doers, and explorers—and these are typically characteristics of students who come to us interested in ROTC or who are veterans.”

Certainly thinkers, doers, and explorers are descriptors shared by the four IC students and alumni in this article. These four are all at different points in their collegiate-military life, including a current student who is a veteran, a recent ROTC graduate who is preparing for duty, an active officer, and a recent retiree. They have dedicated themselves to service while also exploring—and in some cases pushing— the boundaries of what a military career can be.

Public Affairs Officer and Emmy Winner: Ricardo T. "Ricoh" Player '89

Riccoh Player ’89 has a knack for finding his own way. He cemented this reputation in 2019, when he became the first public a!airs officer in the Marines to earn an Emmy Award. When he retired in June 2022, the Park School graduate was a colonel in charge of the headquarters and service teams supporting the Marine training depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, one of two Marine Corps recruiting depots.

Now that he’s retired from the military, Colonel Player is getting back to his Park School roots as an independent consultant—a speaker, marketing consultant, and film director in Abilene, Texas. He’s drawing upon a quarter century of public a!airs experience in the Marines, which included a 2019 Emmy Award in a military category as executive producer of the 2019 “Marine Corps Birthday Message.”

“So, similar to the lessons learned at Ithaca, I had to plow my own path to seek command.”

Riccoh Player '89

However, his last deployment was outside of the field. He likened it to being a city manager, “making sure the trains run on time.” During his term, that task was complicated by COVID-19. Player responded to the virus by establishing four sites to quarantine training-ready recruits prior to boot camp, safeguarding the cohort against COVID spreads and keeping Parris Island operations on track to train more than 20,000 recruits during the pandemic—a noteworthy achievement.

Player’s childhood dream of becoming a Marine was fueled by his family’s military legacy. He wanted to join the Marines 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 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.

Path Maker

A seminal moment occurred when, after not getting the parts he wanted in IC theatre department plays, he produced and directed a play on his own with friends. It sold out, teaching him a lesson about forging his own path that, he said, served him well in the military.

IC was also the source of his lifelong nickname, Riccoh. Some of his dorm mates pranked him by sending mail-order catalogs addressed to Riccoh Player, for the Rico character on the Miami Vice TV show. “The more I complained, the heavier my mailbox footprint became. So I just stopped complaining and embraced it,” he said.

Player joined the Marines after graduating—at a time when tensions were growing in the Middle East—and in 1990 he was deployed in the 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 eventually steered him to public a!airs to take advantage of his IC education— not Player’s first choice because it dampened his opportunities for becoming a commanding officer. “So, similar to the lessons learned at Ithaca, I had to plow my own path to seek command,” Player said.

High Achiever

He got all the promotions expected of most high achieving public a!airs officers—including a stretch when he was anointed as “Major Player”—and regularly went the extra mile. When the Pentagon was attacked on September 11, 2001, he was working in Washington’s Department of Defense Public A!airs O!ice, and within hours of the attack he had set up a fully operational press center at an alternate site—“major player” indeed. Following that, he became public a!airs o!icer for Donald Rumsfeld, who was the U.S. secretary of defense at the time, and then served as a Congressional fellow at the Chicago Tribune. Throughout his career, Player has consistently championed diversity—he was his command’s lead diversity o!icer when he retired. “I’m a walking advertisement for diversity anywhere I go,” he said. “Hopefully, anyone different than the majority will see me and say, ‘Hey, perhaps I can take those steps as well.’” 

From Gridiron Player to Special Forces Ranger: Jason A. Porter '09

Jason Porter ’09 was a multisport athlete in high school who was mainly interested in playing football when he got to Ithaca College. But when injuries slowed his progress, he investigated 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.” So he signed up and soon realized he didn’t have time do both ROTC and football. “It was a little disappointing, but there was no real future past college with football,” he said. “So it’s one of those sacrifices you make.”

“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.”

Jason A. Porter '09

Still, 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.”

Strategist With a Purpose

Today, Porter is a major in the Third Special Forces Group in charge of about 15 people and providing support to another 2,500. The group’s mission: combat terrorism in northwest and East Africa by partnering with local military forces in contested environments. “Special Forces have a very strategic mission, and there are a lot of high performers in this environment,” Porter said. “That attracts me, being around high performers and knowing your job has purpose.”

His first deployment after training was 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, New Jersey, high school and his Army logistics organizations had diverse populations, he noted, but Special Forces was mostly white males.

Diversity Deep-Diver

“That’s what got me to dive deeper into this problem of diversity in the military,” Porter said. One of his deeper dives 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 Colonel 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 needs to ensure it’s cultivating talent in a way that creates military forces more in line with the nation’s demographics—as he strove to do at the University of South Carolina’s ROTC program.

Teacher and Helper

Similar to Colonel 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.

He 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, and while he’d love to become a general o!icer, “that’s not my focus,” he said. “My focus is to just be successful, go as far as I can, enjoy every day, and try to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.”

IC Devotee and Science Scholar: Beth Ryan '22

Beth Ryan ’22 has immersed herself in two fields that historically have been white-male dominated. She is entering a PhD program in chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell this fall, after which she’ll fulfill her ROTC scholarship obligation by serving eight years in the U.S. Army.

Science and the Army are evolving as both Ryan’s ROTC squad and her IC cohort of biochemistry majors were majority women, and her own experience so far has been “mostly positive,” she said. Besides, that’s where her passions lie. “I’ve wanted to serve in the military since I was very young,” she said. “I just didn’t know in what capacity.”

Ryan grew up in a household with two military parents. Her mom, Jen, resigned her commission as an Army captain when Beth was one, and her dad, Phil, was in Special Forces for much of her childhood but now is brigadier general at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Before going to college, Ryan had moved eight times, went to four different elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools. In addition, her dad occasionally was called upon to drop everything and go to an undisclosed location for a dangerous assignment that could last weeks. More than once he received a call during the night and was gone before she woke up. 

Resilient Adapter

Ryan’s childhood experiences were “a doubleedged sword,” she said. “You lose a little bit of your childhood, but the upside is you mature quickly. You’re made more resilient. I adapt to change pretty well.”

She also developed a love of science. “When I was a kid, my favorite word was why.” Science classes often had an answer to that question. “So I really, really loved it,” she said. “And I really had good science teachers, so that drew me in.”

“I had such a great connection with the faculty and such great friends, and it was a small school, which is what I was used to growing up.” 

Beth Ryan '22

As a high school sophomore, she was impressed by a visit to Cornell and applied. She was awarded an ROTC scholarship and received a transfer option for Cornell, meaning she could transfer there after a year in one of the ROTC cohort schools—Elmira, Binghamton, Cortland, or IC. She chose IC, expecting to transfer out after a year. “But after a semester and a half, I knew I couldn’t leave IC,” she said. “I had such a great connection with the faculty and such great friends, and it was a small school, which is what I was used to growing up. So it was an interesting turn of events to get me there, but I’m very, very glad it happened.”

She started as a biology major but switched to biochemistry after finding she loved the courses, the research, and the opportunity as a teaching assistant that started in her sophomore year. “Everything about that department was like it called for me,” she said. 

Game-Time Decider

ROTC also was fulfilling. It was a significant time commitment—three morning workouts each week and weekend field exercises once a semester—but the friendships and experiences made it worthwhile, she said. “We’d spend 48 to 72 hours working on tactics in the woods, sleeping outside, doing really cool stu! that I thoroughly enjoyed regardless of the temperature,” she said. “It was such a great time, a great bonding experience with the other cadets.”

When she began at IC, she wasn’t sure how a science background would mesh with a military career, but soon she was exposed to Army research labs— which contributed to development of the COVID-19 vaccine, among other initiatives. With her PhD, she will have an opportunity to serve in an Army research lab—and possibly to teach at West Point, as well. Both appeal to her.

“I discovered while at Ithaca that I really enjoy teaching,” she said. “I’m still debating whether I would stay on in the Army or resign and pursue teaching at a small institution. That will be more of a game-time decision.” For now, Ryan’s looking forward to making Ithaca her home for another five years, extending the longest stretch she’s ever had in one location. “Ithaca had been the one place where I’ve really loved living,” she said.

Student, Veteran, and Axe-Throwing Entrepreneur: Sam Williams '23

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sam Williams ’23 interrupted his sophomore year at IC to join with an old Marine buddy in opening an axe-throwing business in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Now, with a stavv in place to run his company, Electric City Axe Throwing, he is back to being a full-time IC business administration major—spending five hours or more each week helping to manage the business, often driving there on weekends. “It’s kind of fun to go school and run a business at the same time,” he said. “There are a lot of practical applications for what I’m learning about business.”

Growing up about 20 miles south of Ithaca in Candor, New York, his late father, George “Skip” Williams, “always spoke highly of the Marines and was very proud of his service,” Williams said. “I always wanted to have that.” Following Marine Corps training, Williams was assigned as a guard in the brig at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. “I wanted to do something more exciting,” he said, so he took the advice of a career planner and volunteered for the Marine security guard program. He was accepted and spent his final three years doing stints providing security at U.S. embassies in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Podgorica, Montenegro; and Moscow, Russia. 

Overseas Explorer to IC Enroller

Williams’s hitch in Cambodia was the first time he’d been outside the United States and Canada. “It was a really big culture shock,” Williams said, remarking on “how they have completely different customs, how they eat—their day-to-day lives are so completely different. It made me very grateful for the opportunities in the U.S.” 

“I’ve learned quite a bit from my business classes. I learned a lot of principles on basic business operations that I was able to use, or that I was doing and didn’t realize.” 

Sam Williams '23

As his five-year obligation concluded, Williams was open to the idea of a military career but worried that the constant moving as assignments changed would make having a family more challenging. Besides, Williams said, “I thought the GI Bill [funding college tuition] was too good an opportunity to go to waste, even though I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I got out,” Williams said.

He chose IC because he wanted to save on housing costs by living at home—at the Candor house he had inherited when his father passed away in May 2021. Once enrolled, the axe-throwing business opportunity emerged when he and his eventual business partner and Marines friend, Jose Bataller, visited another Marine buddy who has an axe-throwing business in Virginia.

The business partners made a calculated risk, starting their business during the pandemic and betting that COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted by the time they opened in June 2021. They were roughly right, and the business was able to cover its expenses in the first year. 


Further, Williams said, “After opening my own business and taking a few classes at IC, I got a better picture of what I wanted to do. I want a degree and the knowledge to have a good career in business.”

Being a business owner in business classes, he’s a favorite target of professors asking how he would handle various situations. “I’ve learned quite a bit from my business classes,” Williams noted, specifically citing his operations management class with Brad Treat. “I learned a lot of principles on basic business operations that I was able to use, or that I was doing and didn’t realize.”

When he graduates next year, Williams plans to seek a full-time job in business operations while continuing to run the axe-throwing business on the side—or full-time if it takes o!. Long-term, he hopes that the business will be a source of “passive income. I’d love to have multiple sources of income, so it doesn’t matter if one slows down,” he said.

As a veteran who has opened and operated his own business and will soon have an IC business degree, Williams has clearly left his options open.