Retired Marine To Professor: How Colonel Jake Graham Has Immersed Himself In Penn State Community

Queue “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, folks.

There aren’t many people who are both a former Marine and a college professor. Let alone also being a father, coach, author, and leader in their community. However, Penn State Information Sciences and Technology professor Colonel Jake Graham fits that role.

Graham was born and raised as a Pennsylvanian in the state’s capitol of Harrisburg. After high school, he attended Harrisburg Area Community College, then attended Iowa State where he studied architecture, something he was inspired to do because of his grandfather.

He completed the program to earn his degree but said he recognized architecture might not be the career for him.

“When I finished my degree, the timing was not great. The industry was adopting technology that I just wasn’t up to speed on,” Graham said. “My class did not take any courses in computer-aided design, so when I hit the job market, I was not as marketable as the kids that had that technology behind them.”

Graham decided to pivot to something he always wanted to learn: aviation.

“One of the things that I had always wanted to do was learn how to fly,” Graham said. “Probably a year before graduation, I started pursuing the Marine Corps as a career path.”

Although he was always interested in aviation, Graham said it was too expensive to study in college. He considered the Marines as a possible route from his brother, who was in the Marines during the Vietnam War, and his college roommate who was also in the Corps. However, it was a Christmas gift that solidified his decision to enlist.

“For Christmas one year, I got a couple of flying lessons at the local airport,” Graham said “And then I was kind of hooked, so that’s how that went.”

Graham entered the Marine Corps in December 1980 and was quickly commissioned a second lieutenant after nine months of Army Officer Candidate School and finishing school. He then spent 17 months in flight school and earned his pilot’s wings in June 1983.

After all of his training, Graham was stationed in California for six years with his squadron, then he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for two years. In Okinawa, Graham spent most of his time deployed in Korea, the Philippines, and on battleships.

Graham also met his wife while he was in Japan. Dr. Kim Graham is a Penn State graduate and retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel. The couple got married after two years of dating and were relocated to Quantico, Virginia, for officer training where they worked on staff together.

Graham was then assigned to HMX-1, the executive flight detachment for the White House and helicopter transport of the president of the United States while in Quantico. Graham said he spent four and half years with HMX-1 where he flew in support of Presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton.

“Everywhere the president goes in the world, there’s always a Marine Corps helicopter crew in the ready with him on the trip,” Graham said. “He may not see them, but they’re in the background somewhere just in case they’ve got to do an emergency relocation of the president.”

Graham and his wife were relocated back to Okinawa in 1995, but this time, they had their 10-month-old daughter Megan with them. Graham completed another infantry tour with the infantry headquarters and became a squadron commander. However, when they left Okinawa this time, they brought back a fourth member of their family, their son Brett who was born in Japan.

The newly expanded Graham family returned to the United States where Graham completed a tour as a political military advisor at the Pentagon and worked as the Japan/Okinawa Desk Officer. He then became the commander of the airbase that supported the presidential squadron in Quantico until June 2001.

Graham and his family were on the move again, but this time the destination was Germany. He was reassigned to Headquarters U.S. European Command (EUCOM) where he worked as a Non-Strategic Nuclear Force Advisor and was the Mission Commander for the EUCOM Airborne Nuclear Command Post. Graham was also deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he helped the U.S. Army’s Fourth Infantry Division cross Turkey into northern Iraq in May 2003.

Graham returned to the Pentagon in July 2004 to work in the general’s office at the Marine Corps headquarters as a colonel. He led the inspection and investigation divisions before becoming the president of the Naval Discharge Review Board and the secretary of the Navy’s office.

Graham retired from the Navy’s office on July 1, 2007, after nearly 27 years of service in the Marines Corps. Graham and his wife decided to move their family to her hometown State College when they both retired. Graham said when he moved to town he planned to continue working but didn’t know where.

Graham considered working at the airport because of his experience in the Marines, but that was until he met folks from Penn State’s College of Information Science and Technology (IST). Graham submitted his resume and was called in for an interview.

At the time, the college just introduced a Security and Risk Analysis degree but needed professors to build the curriculum and support research. Graham agreed to help and became a Penn State professor in the summer of 2007.

Part of his research support is being the director of the Red Cell Analytics Lab (RCAL). The lab was founded a year after Graham arrived on campus and he said he used his work in the Marines as a model to build the lab.

“The notion of the red cell was something I brought from the Marine Corps,” Graham said. “I was a huge user of intelligence my whole time in the Marine Corps, so when I build courses, I build those courses a lot of times using techniques and processes that I learned during my time in the Marine Corps. The same thing with the red cell.”

Graham said red teaming is a military term used to identify potential adversaries. The lab teaches students how to identify those potential threats and mitigate them.

“So if you build a war plan, you want to have some way to test that war plan. The blue forces build the friendly war plan, and then the red team tries to attack that war plan and they do that by thinking like the enemy,” Graham said. “So that’s what the techniques that red teaming teach. How do you think like your adversary in order to get inside your friendly loop?”

Graham said over the years, he has helped hundreds of students get internships and jobs with intelligence agencies, law enforcement, and the military through the Red Cell Analytics Lab.

Along with being a professor and running a research lab in his retired life, Graham was a coach for his son’s sports teams dating back to his time with the Marines.

“I did a bunch of coaching during that time,” Graham said. “Our son was a baseball player and a football player, so I coached baseball for 11 years from Little League all the way through Legion Baseball, and then I spent six years coaching him in youth football.”

When Graham was approached with an opportunity to be the faculty mentor for Penn State’s men’s volleyball team nine years ago, he said he didn’t think he had the time or energy to join the program, but he decided to sit down with head coach Mark Pavlik anyway. After their meeting, Graham said he decided to take the faculty mentor position.

“I have a unique opportunity with men’s volleyball and it all starts with Pav,” Graham said. “Pav has brought me on as a full-time partner in the program, so I attend every event that he attends and the coaches attend, I travel with the team, [and] I go to practice.

However, perhaps the most valuable thing for Graham is the relationships he builds with the players.

“The players have gotten to know me and confide in me and we can have conversations that aren’t about volleyball,” Graham said. “I’ve had a lot of students in the classroom, so I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them really well.

“I’ve been to volleyball weddings and have gotten to know a lot of the players really well,” Graham continued.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Graham decided to get into writing. He started by writing a fictional short story about the origins of COVID-19 called, “The Assassin’s Mace.” Graham said he wrote four books during the pandemic with the first one, “Scimitar Strike,” published about two months ago. The second book is currently with the publisher.

Graham said years of writing and building curriculum in the classroom helped him start writing his novels.

“I have to create my own synthetic intelligence and I’ve got a whole bunch of this stuff because I’ve been building exercises for the last 16 years,” Graham said. “So I have years and years of these intelligence products that I’ve accumulated.”

Graham added that parts of those lessons and many things he learned in the Marines are used as background in his novels as well.

“I integrate processes that I am familiar with and I draw from history and try to bring in real events and then create characters around those events and embellish that way from a fictional standpoint,” Graham said.

Graham returned from the NCAA Tournament in California a couple of weeks ago with the men’s volleyball team and said next season will be his last with the team. He said he started a phased retirement this past season and used that extra time to revise some of the curriculum he created 16 years ago.

As for his family, Graham’s wife Kim works at Penn State and uses her doctorate in education to consult curriculum development at the university. Graham’s daughter Megan graduated from Penn State with a degree in security risk analysis and took three of her father’s courses. She now works as an analyst in Washington, DC.

Graham’s son Brett attended and played football at UConn, then transferred to Tennessee for his graduate year. He graduated from UConn with a bachelor’s degree in finance and earned his master’s in public policy and administration from Tenessee. As a punter, he was named to the first team All-Conference team in 2014 at State College High School and went on to appear in 35 games in college, and also lives in Washington, D.C.

Graham is now in the process of writing his fifth book and said he plans for his second book to be released later this summer or in the fall.

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About the Author

Mitch Corcoran

Mitch is a junior broadcast journalism major from Johnstown, PA. He is a big Pittsburgh sports fan and in his free time he likes to listen to music, play video games, and rewatch old football games. He also loves Seinfeld, Star Wars, bucket hats, and Dua Lipa. If you want Justin Herbert propaganda or random sports content, follow him on Twitter/X @MitchCorc18 or email [email protected]

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