Larry Rankin faced a big decision after graduating from high school in Michigan more than two decades ago. Go to college?
“I wasn’t ready for college,” he said.
OK, then, follow in his Navy dad’s footsteps by joining a branch of the military?
“Not for me,” Rankin said. “Never.”
Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the rest of his life.
“One day, I came home from work and my older sister was meeting with an Army recruiter,” Rankin said. “She wanted to go into the Army. I talked with him for about five minutes. He made me a bet.”
“He said, ‘All right, Larry, let’s go outside and play (basketball) one-on-one,’” Rankin said. “He said, ‘If I win, you let me talk to you about going into the Army. If I lose, I’ll leave you alone.’”
Rankin, who considered himself a pretty good player, took the bet. Typical playground rules, winner’s outs.
“I went out there knowing I was going to win,” Rankin said. ‘The first clue, though, was when (the recruiter) said, ‘I’ll give you seven points going to 10.’ My dad was smirking off to the side. I took the ball out first and missed my first shot. I didn’t get the ball back again.”
The recruiter wiped the floor with him. Rankin lost the game, but he gained a future that included two tours of duty in Iraq and, eventually, a commission in the California National Guard. Today, he is a major and the deputy director of the California Military Department’s Office of External Affairs.
With Black History Month upon us, you might say Rankin is making history every day. His duties include implementing Governor Newsom’s “California For All” directive to state agencies and departments to expand their equity and diversity in their respective mission, policies, and practices. In other words, to make their departments resemble the demographics of this vastly diverse state. Rankin looks to identify minorities who are prime candidates for advancement through the ranks.
“I advocate for policies that affect the Military Department in a positive way,” Rankin said. “How to maintain more in the military and grow it to be more diverse. Not just the recruitment and retention of minorities, but that’s certainly a big part of it. Our senior leadership doesn’t look like the state. You can’t promote what you don’t have.”
The state Guard’s Acting Adjutant General and Rankin’s boss, Major General Matthew Beevers, is a staunch believer in the Governor’s dictate. Beevers was outspoken in his support for LGBTQ troops serving in the California Guard in 2019, as the Trump Administration sought to ban transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military.
“I appreciate (Beevers),” Rankin said. “He’s dedicated, no question, to diversity and that we look more like California in the military. It creates that sense of hope.”
After completing his enlistment in 2004, Rankin was indeed ready for college and earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego in 2007. He spent the next several years working as a counselor in youth facilities in the San Diego area. He joined the National Guard in 2008, with his college degree leading to his direct commission as a second lieutenant in 2010.
“I went back into the National Guard to look at additional financial options for my master’s degree,” Rankin said. He completed that in 2017.
Today, at California National Guard headquarters in Sacramento, he works on policies intended to make the Guard a lucrative option to those who also would thrive in the private sector – in technology, warehouse management, and other fields – considering many will be reservists, as was he earlier in his career.
Rankin also is pursuing his doctorate through University of Massachusetts Global and will present his dissertation on the mentorship of Black officers who can promote beyond the rank of major.
In essence, he’s writing a game plan that happened all because of the backyard basketball game back in 2000. He lost, he listened, he learned, and now he leads.
“That was a pivotal decision to where I am now,” Rankin said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was spinning. Doing that time on active duty put me on a course.”
Indeed, a funny thing that happened on the way to the rest of his life, and with major results.
California is a richly diverse state with an equally diverse veteran population. Of the 1.6 million veterans in California, 754,831 self-identify as an ethnic minority. While minority veterans comprise approximately 47 percent of the total California veteran population, as a group, they are less likely to access their veterans benefits than non-minority veterans. For more information on how to access the benefits you have earned during your service visit www.calvet.ca.gov/veteran-services-benefits. For additonal information on the CalVet Minority and Underrepresented Veterans program visit www.calvet.ca.gov/minority-veterans.
For more information on Black Histroy Month visit www.history.com/black-history-month