A Career of Service

U.S. Army provides structure and experiences for Col. Ryan Shipley

By Craig Reed

Col. Ryan Shipley is joined by loved ones during a promotion ceremony. From left are his girlfriend, Jennifer Speakman; father, Larry; Ryan; mother, Janet; and daughter, Emma Brown. Photo courtesy of the Shipley family

During his teens, Ryan Shipley realized he needed some structure in his life. His subsequent decisions led to a career full of it.

Ryan chose the junior ROTC program at Roseburg High School over continuing to hang out with guys who were “kind of questionable with law enforcement,” he says.

Ryan turned the structure and discipline offered by junior ROTC—followed by the Oregon National Guard and the U.S. Army—into a diverse military career. His dedication and commitment to his Army responsibilities over the past 25 years earned him numerous promotions, awards, and decorations.

Most recently, the 45-year-old was promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., on February 1.

Sharing the moment with Ryan at the ceremony were his parents, Larry and Janet; his daughter, Emma Brown; and his girlfriend, Jennifer Speakman.

“Being a colonel represents sacrifice, selfless service, dedication to duty and a lifetime of commitment to my country,” Ryan says.

Ryan graduated from Roseburg High in 1994 and from Umpqua Community College in 1996. While at UCC, he joined the Oregon National Guard. His interest was in corrections and law enforcement.

Ryan, a 1994 Roseburg High School graduate, has risen to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.

His next stop was Western Oregon University. He attended on an ROTC scholarship and earned a degree in corrections in 1998. He also earned distinguished military graduate honors and was commissioned into the infantry that year.

Ryan’s commitment to the Army has taken him to numerous U.S. bases for training in different terrain and in the air as a paratrooper.

He has deployed multiple times in peacekeeping operations, including to Egypt and Kosovo. He was in Italy with the Southern European Task Force, helping train soldiers for combat. He spent many months in hazardous areas and combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, taking hostile fire and returning fire.

“I knew I wanted to be the one over there and not have someone serve in my place,” says Ryan, who was a brigade battle captain with the 173rd Airborne in Kirkuk, Iraq. “I wanted to be on the front lines. Combat is not going to sway me at all. This is what we’re trained to do.”

After returning to Italy from Iraq, Ryan took command of a company of 120 paratroopers. They began training for a deployment to Afghanistan.

“Every single day is a proving ground when leading men and women, our nation’s most important treasure,” he says.

Ryan knows his duties worried his parents, but says they were supportive knowing he was doing what he wanted to do. Neither Larry nor Janet are veterans, but other members of their families served.

“Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Janet asks. “We all have to make our decisions and live with them. If this is what Ryan wants, we have to back him 100%. It just wouldn’t be for me.”

Janet and Larry are retired Umpqua Community College staff members. Larry was a longtime member of Douglas Electric Cooperative’s board of directors.

Their concern for their son through months of training and deployment to foreign countries is balanced with pride in his accomplishments.

Ryan’s family at the promotion ceremony in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

“As Ryan says, he’s gone beyond where he thought he would go,” Larry says. “We’re very proud and happy he’s achieved what he has. We’re happy for him, of course.”

Before being deployed from Italy to another combat zone, Ryan was selected to be an information systems engineer. That changed his direction of advancement in the Army.

For his ensuing assignments, he was joint communications infrastructure officer in Iraq in 2008 and 2009; corps knowledge management officer at Fort Lewis, Washington; deputy chief information officer at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; and configuration management officer at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

In all those positions, he and his staff were responsible for keeping communications systems open and secure.

At the Pentagon, Ryan was in charge of the Joint Network Operations Security Center, a facility that maintains 24-hour communications support to more than 40,000 people near the nation’s capital.

“The operations center must keep the blinking lights on no matter what officials are doing,” he says.

While at the Pentagon, Ryan earned a master’s degree in cybersecurity management and policy from the University of Maryland in 2019.

His next assignment was operations division chief for communications at the National Military Command Center, in the basement of the Pentagon.

In December 2019, Ryan was named associate professor at the National War College’s College of Information and Cyberspace at Fort McNair. Earlier this year, he was named associate dean at the school. He is scheduled for another move next month, working for Intelligence and Security Command and being in charge of communication support to multiple countries.

“This hasn’t been a normal route,” Ryan says of his military journey. “Every place I have been, I needed to be. I’ve filled multiple roles because of my wide variety of experiences. Some of it has been fun, some of it has been terrible, and there have been all sorts of things in between.”

Ryan says he has been fortunate to not have been injured or wounded in combat, but he has suffered several injuries during training. Those injuries include a concussion, dislocated shoulder, sprained ankles, and sore knees from years of hiking with a heavy pack.

“I’m going to continue in the Army until I stop having fun,” he says. “There are a lot of different and exciting challenges and opportunities offered by the Army. I consider myself fortunate to still be able to serve my country.”