To look at U.S. Navy Commander Ritchie Taylor, he has it all: a great job as deputy commander, Base Operations at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; a resume filled with honors and awards earned during his 29-year career on submarines; a supportive family including his wife and two daughters, and his parents.
But back in 2012, what Taylor did not have was a college degree.
“I was all set to attend Georgia Tech on a partial scholarship coming out of high school,” said Taylor. “But when it came down to it, I was a small town kid from Albany, Georgia and I got cold feet.”
Instead, Taylor had been talking with the Navy recruiter, and two months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted. “They asked me what I wanted to do: surface or subs,” he recalled. “I asked, ‘Which one pays more?’ And I chose submarines. It’s turned out to be the right choice for me since I’m mechanically inclined.”
For the next 25 years, Taylor rose impressively through the ranks of the Navy, rotating his time at sea on submarines while twice earning Sailor of the Year awards, and serving on land in roles at Groton, Connecticut, and in Silverdale, Washington. One of his “favorite jobs” was as chief petty officer, heading up an auxiliary division of about 15 sailors. “I loved it,” said Taylor. “It was like being a mother duck, and I took a lot of pride in taking care of them, from their training to making sure things were good in their personal life. In fact, I’m still in touch with a number of them.”
All this time, Taylor said his parents had been trying to coax him to get his college degree. “They always believed I’d be an officer, and I was commissioned (in 1999) without my degree,” said Taylor. “I always felt confident in my abilities, but with the downsizing in the Navy, I was worried I wouldn’t be competitive for the next move up without a degree.”
In 2012, Taylor finally decided to make the jump, getting his bachelor’s degree in 18 months, taking classes at the Navy College office at Bangor. “That’s where I ran into Jennifer Perryman (Brandman University’s campus director), who I knew from Groton,” said Taylor. “She told me I should get my master’s degree, and 14 months later, I had a master’s in organizational leadership.”
As he has in his career, Taylor excelled in class, getting straight A’s. But it was a move that took him 25 years to make. “I wish I would have done this sooner,” said Taylor. “I didn’t think I could do it, and I didn’t have confidence. I have a good heart and I’m a hard worker, but I had a lack of confidence in my writing.”
Taylor concedes his degrees have given him the writing capabilities that he now needs in his role as deputy commander. And those degrees have also given him something of even greater importance: belief in himself. Earning his master’s degree meant so much to Taylor that he flew 3,000 miles from Maine to attend the Brandman graduation ceremony at the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport, getting 12 of his fellow students to attend with him. “The ceremony was awesome, a great day,” he said.
And now, Taylor enjoys his current role of running the Portsmouth installation. “I love it,” he said. “It’s like running a small city.” When he’s asked what advice he has for others when it comes to their education, Taylor doesn’t hesitate. “Don’t wait like I did,” he said. “Start out with a couple of classes, but just go for it, and you won’t regret it.”
This story also appeared online: Northwest Navy Life.
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