The story behind Liberty’s favorite geography professor

Unlike many of his colleagues, Professor Robert Ritchie does not have a doctorate degree.

“I can sit here and tell you I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer because I know that makes me powerful in the Kingdom,” Ritchie said.

However, the recent creation of a military studies degree at Liberty University emphasizes the continuing impact Ritchie and other professors in the history department have had on military students at Liberty. Ritchie’s 33 years serving in three different branches of the military have given him an ability to connect with and understand Liberty’s roughly 30,000 military students far beyond the knowledge any doctorate degree could provide.

Ritchie joined the Marines in 1974 before finishing high school. Growing up in a poor family with a mother who immigrated from a small fishing village in Scotland, he saw joining the military as his chance to go to college one day.

(1980s) Robert Ritchie in sub-zero degree weather hauling .50 caliber Machine Gun ammo to the M60A1 Tank

In 1984, as an active-duty Marine sergeant, Ritchie attended The Citadel and received a bachelor’s degree in history. Later, Ritchie also received his master’s degree in military studies from the American Military University.

After leaving active duty in 1989, Ritchie became a high school history teacher. Always having an interest in military history, Ritchie came to Liberty University to attend the history department’s Civil War seminar. At the seminar, Ritchie spoke with professors in the history department and grew interested in working for Liberty. While there were no open positions at the time, the department encouraged Ritchie to take geography classes that could qualify him for a position in the future.

Then, in 1998, Ritchie joined the Army. 

Photo taken when Robert Ritchie received his last promotion to Master Sergeant at the 512thAW Dover, DE, where he served as the Wing Historian

“For seven years I was in the belly of the whale,” Ritchie said. “It was tough, and I couldn’t understand why God had given me this idea and allowed me to meet people and then next thing I know, the war’s breaking and I’m breaking my back in the Army loading trucks.”

Deployed to Iraq in 2005, Ritchie worked in the Air Force as a field historian writing a classified history for the government on operations during the Iraq War. As a part of his job, he performed research in the morgues. Ritchie noticed the care people took for the dead soldiers and formulated a mission that has inspired his teaching.

“I just want to give something back to those kids, and not just the ones who are fallen but the ones who are going to fall,” Ritchie said.

After returning from war in 2007, Ritchie received a position at Liberty University and since then has taught geography and military history classes. Ritchie has found that, because many of the students in his online classes are currently serving in the military, he has a deeper level of understanding of them.

“I know that the average guy turning a wrench trying to tighten the tank track or the guy who’s on the decks on a ship during an icy storm doesn’t have time to sit around and read books,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie’s teaching style, which is characterized by humor and a wealth of knowledge, has developed from his time in the military. Students, whether in the military or not, appreciate the first-hand experience Ritchie brings into the classroom.

“He doesn’t read off notes. He’s just speaking from experience,” Liberty graduate Jordan Hayley said. “It’s just that added bonus when someone was there and has that perspective to give that I think provides a holistic approach to teaching.”

Ritchie on guard duty in the 70s with an M203 grenade launcher attached to his M16

Hayley shares an interest with Ritchie in military history and has worked closely with him in the development of Liberty’s military studies program. Hayley is currently on staff at the White House and said that she constantly uses information that she learned from Ritchie in her job, whether through classes or conversations.

“I’m still using the skill set that he helped build in me and the information from his classes in my current role in the government and just in personal daily life, remembering to be humble and different Christ-like behaviors he really exemplified,” Hayley said.

Ritchie emphasized that it is thanks to the Christ-focused leadership at Liberty University that he has been able to teach and use his experiences to empower current military service members to work toward a degree.

“We’re telling a kid out there sharpening a bayonet on a troop ship he could be a Ph.D. one day,” Ritchie said. “That’s what I was. I was that 19-year-old kid that no one said would make it.”

Robert Ritchie (center right) as a Lt and an award-winning tank crew beside an M1 tank in 1984 at Ft Knox Ky

Jacqueline Hale is a Feature writer

11 comments

  • My prayer partner from Fork Union 1995-98– Ooh Rah!

  • Professor Ritchie was my history teacher at Fork Union Military Academy. His style of teaching influenced my love of history. Always held a candid classroom always kept our interest. Liberty is very fortunate to have him on their staff. If I can say anything about him there is two things he taught better than most. One how to be a better person through actions Always encouraged questions entertained the class clown but still got his point across crystal clear. Two he taught me how to be a respectful reputable person his core values are exceptional.

  • Biff Messinger Major (Ret) US Army

    I was on the staff at Fork Union Military Academy from 1995 to 97 with Rob and certainly admired him as a great teacher of history, but also as a solid Christian example for our 600 cadets. I knew Rob was a Marine and that he attended The Citadel while on active duty which should have given him over 20 years toward retirement. Reading this article, I am just learning that after leaving Fork Union, Rob enlisted in the army in 1998 at 41 years of age which is, by it self remarkable. It appears, according to your article, that he was in the army for seven years before resigning and then entering the Air Force at 48. I didn’t think that was possible given USAF entry requirements, however, if anyone was capable of doing so it would be Rob Richie. If there is any way I could get Rob’s contact info I would greatly appreciate it.

  • joann pearman

    God Bless You, Rob. I miss seeing and talking with you.

  • I took Prof. Ritchie’s GEOG 200, GEOG 320, and his military history courses on Modern American Military History, and his Korea and Vietnam War course. He is still my favorite professor to this day and I can say that thanks to him and all the other professors at LU’s History Department, I am a thriving Archivist at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. The lessons I learned in Prof. Ritchie’s classes have helped me in the execution of my duties and I can’t thank him enough for how he has prepared me for this job.

  • Professor Ritchie was my first Lt when I entered into the Marines. I always remember he talking about civil war battle tactics. As a Liberty Alum, and a father of two Liberty students, I am glad to see someone of his hands on knowledge and experience gain a full time position with the school. Great article.
    Tommy McGee

  • Emmanuel-la P. Tarr

    Sir. Ritchie is truly an inspiration! Every other I think about all the uplifting things he added to the course material, how he interacted with each of the students, and just how humble he is as a person. Geography class was so much more than maps, locations, and people for me. My prayer and love always goes out this amazing professor…

  • Thanks Mr. Ritchie for you inspiring me in WWII history. Chris Smith -11the grade history-POWHATAN VA HIGH SCHOOL.

  • Justin Blackford

    Well done sir! Lots of memories with the Ritchies.

  • This man made the biggest impact on me when I was in high school. He was hard on us in the most loving way possible… because he saw what we could be. He lifted us up and gave us tough love. He will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart. So glad to see him being recognized so beautifully. He also always called me Queen Bee… which still makes me laugh.

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