Riki Ellison

Riki Ellison
MDAA Chairman and Founder

Mr. Riki Ellison is the Founder and Chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance; a non-profit organization launched in 2002 with a singular purpose and mission to drive for the deployment, development, and evolution of missile defense. Mr. Ellison has been involved with missile defense since 1980, being introduced to it by then Governor Ronald Reagan’s Senior Defense Advisor, Dr. William R. Van Cleave. Since its founding, the organization has grown to over 20,000 members across the world and has emerged as the top lay expert voice on missile defense in the world. Mr. Ellison has been in attendance of over 278 missile defense tests, visited 743 U.S. and allied missile defense bases and platforms, and has advocated for missile defense in all 50 states and 30 countries.

Amongst the achievements of Mr. Ellison is the creation and building of two historic missile defense and veteran public memorials. One memorial is located at Vandenberg AFB in California, honoring President Ronald Reagan, and the other is located at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, dedicated with the late Senator Daniel Inouye. Mr. Ellison was awarded the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara in December 2011 and the German Air Force Air Defense Missile Badge in October 2018. Mr. Ellison also established the annual “Missile Defender of the Year Award Ceremony.” These awards are given to the best United States missile defense soldier, sailor, airman, and national guardsmen from each of the military services involved with missile defense. There have been 74 DOY events hosted in eight countries that have recognized 913 DOY Awardees from 22 different nations since 2011 as the Missile Defender of the Year in their respective branch and region.

On October 19th, 2023, Mr. Ellison and MDAA, in partnership with the University of Arizona, signed an MOU concerning the creation of the Arizona Near Space Studies Institute (ANSSI) and the AETOS Executive Program.

On April 12th, 2022, Mr. Ellison and the MDAA board of directors wrote its first capstone effort to reform U.S. missile defense roles and responsibilities for the rapidly evolving era of great power competition. The report titled “U.S. Missile Defense: An Overview of Past, Current, and Future Roles and Responsibilities” outlines how and why the roles and responsibilities of the Services, Combatant Commands, and the Missile Defense Agency must change, and change soon.

On June 15, 2021, Mr. Ellison and MDAA, in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy and Viterbi School of Engineering, created the USC SHIELD Executive Program. The 8-month-long program began on September 24, 2021, and is designed to ignite a Critical Thinking cauldron and cadre of missile defense leaders across the spectrum on the intersection of public policy and engineering in making the nation and the world a safer place. There are now two completed SHIELD programs with 51 graduates. The third cohort of USC SHIELD is currently ongoing.

In 2006, Mr. Ellison founded the Youth Impact Program for disadvantaged and at-risk youth in our nation’s inner cities. There have been 48 Youth Impact Programs in 15 of our nation’s major cities and major universities. The Youth Impact Program has been recognized twice by the United States Congress in Senate and House Congressional Resolutions for its overall achievements, innovation, and impact. In 2022, the Youth Impact Program implemented its first program for girls. Since the beginning, YIP has impacted 3,693 at-risk youth, 793 NCAA athletes, 164 public school teachers, 169 U.S. Marines, 126 U.S. Army Soldiers, and 38 U.S. Air Force Airmen. Students who attended our 2022 programs on average increased their Stem scores by 40%, language art scores by 27%, and mathematics by 22%. In 2023, access to these programs were expanded. The YIP program offered 4 programs over the summer, including 2 hosted in Hawaii, 1 in Arizona, and a 4 day program in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mr. Ellison was also involved in supporting wounded warriors of the United States military, and those with traumatic brain injury. In 2011, Mr. Ellison brought the National Football League and the United States Army together on TBI that resulted in a partnership announced in 2012 by the Commissioner of the NFL and the Chief of the United States Army.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Ellison played professional football for 10 years as a starting middle linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, winning three Super Bowl championships. He was the first New Zealander to play in the NFL and the first New Zealander to win a Super Bowl. In 2017, Mr. Ellison was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Mr. Ellison played college football at the University of Southern California, winning a National Championship and two Rose Bowls following a State High School Football Championship in Arizona. Mr. Ellison earned a Bachelor of Science degree in International Relations with a graduate emphasis on Defense and Strategic Studies from the University of Southern California in 1983. Mr. Ellison attended the National Security Seminar at the Army War College in 2009 and 2020 and the National Security Seminar at the Air War College in 2011. Mr. Ellison also attended the University of Notre Dame, where he attended a Business Management and Entrepreneurial program in 2013.

Service and athletics were ingrained in Mr. Ellison’s life. His grandfather, Ned Ellison of New Zealand, was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1938 for his achievements in medicine. Ned’s brother (Mr. Ellison’s grand uncle), Thomas Ellison, was the first captain of the New Zealand Representative Rugby Team in 1893 and also played on the New Zealand Native Football Team from 1898-99.

Click here to watch NZ On Air’s documentary on Riki Ellison, The Defender.

Click here to read more on Riki Ellison’s missile defense advocation and his connection to the advisors who influenced President Reagan’s missile defense initiatives.