BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – On this week’s episode of Big Country Politics, News Director Manny Diaz spoke with Riccoh Player, a 33-year Veteran of the United States Marines and a member of Paradedeck, a major advocate for those who have served our country.

Player made history as the first active-duty Marine to win an Emmy Award with the 2019 Marine Corps Birthday Message.

“It came about with, you know, just being creative, being a storyteller, wanting to share a message. And I was tasked along with my partner, Rick Robinson, who’s still serving at the Pentagon. He’s a Marine Veteran but not on active duty. And he was really the creative energy and just the genius of being the director of photography. He could see things from different angles that people could not see. But as the executive producer, it was my job to get the funding, to get the locations, to get the approval for the project,” Player shared. “We pushed the envelope, we understood the Emmy process and certain things that Emmy judges look for, and we stretched it and pulled it and made it fit. And unfortunately, when the gala came around, we were under the COVID umbrella. So we didn’t have the joy of going up there and accepting the golden lady. But it’s at home now. It’s on my mantle. And that encourages me every day to continue telling those stories, especially in the military space.”

Player, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, retired last year and searched for a new home. He found one in Abilene, where his daughter is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base.

“She [his daughter] said nothing but great things about the area… A great place to be, and Abilene opened its arms to us. We’re embracing it and just trying to find where my space is here in the great city of Abilene,” Player expressed.

After graduating with a corporate communication degree from Ithaca College, Player began his career in the Marine Corps in 1989.

“I pretty much went to school for my mom; may she rest in peace. And she said, you know if someone’s going to pay for you to get educated, take those keys, education and open other doors. So that stuck with me. So I received my degree in corporate communication, and I gave that to her,” Player recalled. “I sold everything in my apartment, and I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It kind of broke her heart because she wanted me to pursue acting and creative concepts because I had a scholarship for theater and debate to edit the college, and it was great.”

However, Player discovered a new purpose for his life.

“The Marine Corps was for me. I enlisted so that I could, you know, serve my country. And you know, the Marine Corps has that aura, that persona of being the toughest, and I have family members who joined the Army and the Air Force and the Navy, nothing against that, but I just want to do that just that little bit more. So I enlisted, went to Parris Island boot camp, and my first duty station was Marine barracks at night in Washington DC as a presidential guard. So it was a guy open to the door, you know, salute, not saying a word outside the aircraft,” Player said. “Then Desert Storm started to percolate, and the Marine Corps took all the expert shooters from Marine breaks eight to nine and deployed us as an attachment to The Second Marine Division as their rear security. So it’d be a headquarters post. And we would run patrols and make sure that the general was safe and secure.”

After the tour returned, Player applied for a commission and began his office journey as an infantry officer in Hawaii.

“It was not, you know, luaus every day. It was stationed in Hawaii but served in Okinawa, back and forth, six-month deployments there. Then, I transitioned to public affairs in order to stay in the Marine Corps because there were certain military occupational specialties that were short, as in not a lot of personnel in those, and Public Affairs was one of them. But I’ll tell you that public affairs was not my first choice. I wanted intelligence, logistics, anything but what I did in college, but by God’s grace, it all worked out,” Player said.

Paradedeck started almost three years ago and has grown tremendously during that time.

“It didn’t start with me. It was a bunch of smart folks who saw a space where creatives could come together and create positive content. Now, as I was taking my uniform off, I was focusing on documentaries, and my mentor, Spencer Proffer, he’s out in LA, and I’m his military technical advisor for any of his content whenever it relates to military stuff,” Player shared. “You may have heard of some of our products we have won last year. ‘The Day the Music Died: The true story of the making of Don McLean’s American Pie.’ And the second one was ‘Reinventing Elvis,’ where we look at that 1968 comeback special. And Steve Binder, who’s still alive. He was the man on the ground sitting like this with Elvis and Colonel Parker. And I just provided, you know, were these uniforms correct? Is that the timeline for the historic footage – those things? So said, Hey, we’re looking for someone who’s bold and daring, and having an Emmy Award doesn’t hurt. And they said, ‘Would you be willing to be our chief executive officer?’ I said, Well, okay, I’ll give it a shot. But you know, I’m a retired Marine, and I can’t just take that Marine stuff off. So they’re gonna be some changes.”

When it comes to advocating for Veterans, Player said it’s a vast terrain with many agencies providing information to Veterans.

“I think for Veterans, as the Transition Assistance Program that’s mandated by the Department of Defense that’s rolled out, and it checks all the boxes. But if you’re going to make a decision, whether it’s you’re going to start your own business or go into podcasting, or whatever, I think you have to find a mentor who’s been there, done it, has the scar tissue that can help you avoid some of the booby traps and minefields that are out there,” Player said.

He mentioned that a lot has changed in the Marine Corps throughout the years, including here recently.

“This is just based on… I was just in Europe and Asia, and I talked to a lot of Veterans over there. Vietnam Veterans and their return wasn’t a welcome home. There were no parades. There was none of that. That glamour associated with serving,” Player said. “I think part of it is, you know, recruiters not getting folks to the finish line. Because some of these young folks, the gamers, the purple hair, the techies, you were just not connecting with them. I know that General Neller and he’s one of my favorite Marines, not just because he’s a general and the commandant, but because he was very provocative in the sense that he was willing to let those folks who don’t quite fit the Marine Corps mold, especially in tech, bring them on and let them be their own cadre of hackers. You know, keep the purple hair, keep the piercings; you have an expertise that we do not. So let’s employ them.”

Player stated that although this change may evoke strong emotions among former or older marines, it was necessary.

“It makes their heads explode. But if we’re not flexible, if we’re not willing to be creative and push the envelope and break the mold, then we’re going to be okay being irrelevant,” explained Player.

Recently, there has been some controversy regarding changes in the administration’s approach toward the tolerance of certain behaviors among military members. Despite this, Player has expressed his belief that our armed forces are still respected and will continue to be so in the years to come.

“The integrity, the reputation, the sheer firepower that we as an entity, the entire military-industrial complex, has built up, it takes a while to chip away at that, I would say a generation at least to destroy, and this is worst case scenario to destroy what we built,” Player said. “Have there been improvements? Yes. Have there been declines? Some? Have we altered or reduced our standards? No. Across the services, I would say no. I would speak most strongly for the Marine Corps. But I will say across the services, there’s still young men and women who volunteer to serve our country, and as long as that maintains, there will be some tough patches. But I think across the board, the Department of Defense will be fine.”

Player stated that taking care of Veterans, in the long run, is crucial.

“It is of utmost importance. So my journey along that got us here, man, we started with Veterans Journey Home. A five-part documentary series of my buddy Frederick Marks, who’s known for Hoop Dreams. He took his skills, and he interviewed Veterans who attempted suicide, who were sexually abused, who were arrested. And then they put that on film, and then talked about it and brought it counselors and unpacked all of that,” Player shared. “And then it was partnered with arts in the armed forces, Adam Driver, a Marine Veteran, and we bridged the gap between theater and the services. And all of these things, many adventure therapies and no wrong door, the brand and that which Secretary Darrell Carlos just approved last year. Not everything works for everyone… You may like firing a rifle, you may like archery, I might like fly fishing, all those things. If it works and it keeps us from doing something that permanently harms us, then it’s good to go. So, this struggle to reduce homelessness and eliminate Veteran suicide is ongoing. And every little step that we can do to chip away at that, I think is a success.”

He and others are using a creative outlet to support Veterans by raising awareness and reminding them that they are not alone.

“So, we focus on trying to pull all that together, bring creatives into that space, get the messaging out there, and see if we can make a dent and provide a space where Veterans can feel, hey, the resources here, there’s help here. There’s someone who listens here., they’re making a difference. That’s the goal.”