The decision to work toward a PhD came after a friend also serving overseas referred him to the program. After receiving a master's six years ago, he said it was the right time to pursue a PhD.
This is Ricciardi's third tour in the Middle East, having served in Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2005. He has been stationed at his current location in Kandahar for 10 months and is scheduled to return home at the end of August.
Being a father away from his wife and children, who are 11 and 9, has been difficult, but Ricciardi tries to email daily and talk or Skype once a week. He said pursuing a doctorate has been a nice distraction.
"The school part has been a good outlet for me to focus. It's a relatively stressful job because what we do is a little bit dangerous. I escape into the reading," he said, adding that the leadership skills he's learning in the classroom help him perform better on a daily basis in Afghanistan.