2019 Tillman Scholar
The son of a Michigan lumberjack and a rural school bus driver, Riley grew up in the woods, steeped in an ethic of grit, reliability and selflessness. That upbringing ushered Riley toward a life of service and adventure beginning at the United States Military Academy. As a first-generation soldier and college student, Riley initially struggled at West Point, but grew through supported failure, ultimately graduating second in his class and later earning a graduate degree from the University of Oxford.
Riley’s Army experiences as an Infantry officer and Green Beret confirmed for him the importance of determined, reliable leaders. Whether leading his team through wilderness survival training or commanding Special Forces units during three combat tours in Iraq, Riley came to embrace the Special Operations truth that humans are always more important than hardware. After nearly two decades of military service, Riley returned to West Point to teach and mentor cadets, forging the young officers that will shape our nation’s future.
Riley’s passion for cultivating leadership also drives his current pursuit of a Doctorate of Education in Leadership and Learning at Vanderbilt University, where he studies the relationship between leader development, experiential learning, and resilience. Upon graduation, Riley will continue to serve others as he combines his love for the outdoors, formal education and military experience to build young leaders from communities across America. Using the wilderness as his leadership laboratory, Riley plans to bring like-minded veterans and youth together to nurture the next generation of gritty, selfless leaders.