Altoona native, now an Army colonel, finds ‘life is a team sport’
Blair County is proudly home to many men and women who have served our country in the military.
Mark R. Taylor is one of these individuals. Born and raised in Altoona, Taylor later found a home in the Army.
Taylor grew up in Juniata. He graduated from Altoona Area High School in 1993, finishing in the top 50 in his graduating class.
Despite being accepted to multiple colleges and universities, including Juniata, Saint Francis and Penn State, Taylor made the decision to pursue his higher education at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college someday, so it was a good option to go to college and join the military as well,” he said. “It was a good blend between going to college and beginning to serve the country.”
Taylor defied the odds in being accepted to the military academy because of suffering a severe neck injury in high school.
“In the summer before his junior year in high school, he had a diving accident into our swimming pool and fractured three vertebrae in his neck,” Carole Taylor, Mark’s mother, said via email. “He was in a halo for two months. His angel was with him, or God had another path for him than death. The neurosurgeon who treated him told me, ‘He is a very lucky boy.'”
His time at West Point prepared him for what was in store in his future.
“The first two years at West Point were tough academically, but the high-stress first years prepared me for other high stress events in my life,” Taylor said.
Even before being accepted to West Point, the military played a large role in Taylor’s life. His father, Robert, served as a Marine before becoming a state trooper, while his mother was a registered nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Altoona.
“My father served in the United States Marines for four years from 1960 to 1963, and a lot of other relatives on both sides of my family have served in the military, so it was something that I always felt that I needed to do, serve the country,” Taylor said.
After graduating from West Point in 1997, Taylor was commissioned as an Army aviation officer. He served in multiple staff and command positions as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter aviator.
He was stationed at Fort Drum, New York, and was later deployed to Bosnia. After returning to the United States, Taylor brought a Blackhawk helicopter to the VA in Altoona for the dedication of the Wall that Heals in 1999.
Later, following 9/11, Taylor’s unit at Fort Drum was the first aviation unit to go to Uzbekistan, then Bagram, Afghanistan.
“The hardest thing we ever did was send him to war,” Carole Taylor said via email.
In 2008, he assumed duties as an Army Acquisition Corps officer. Since then, Taylor has served in multiple aviation and intelligence collection program management positions within the Program Executive Office Integration, the Special Operations Command, the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army and the National Reconnaissance Office.
He also served as the program manager for Tactical Applications in Chantilly, Virginia. There, he was responsible for leading a team that planned and developed products to provide tactical commanders and warfighters with the information necessary to support national security.
On Nov. 29, 2018, Lt. Col. Taylor was promoted to colonel at the Pentagon. He now serves as the director of the Army Budget Office’s Investments Directorate, “developing and executing the modernization portion of the Army’s $130-plus billion annual budget.”
After finishing his current tour in the Army Budget Office, Taylor will assume duties as an acquisition program manager in the summer of 2020.
Reflecting on his military career, Taylor said he hadn’t expected the Army to take him down the career path that it has, yet it became his home.
“At the time, the commitment was a five-year commitment after graduation (from West Point), so I wasn’t necessarily planning to be in for 20-plus years,” he said. “I knew I was going to be in for my five years, and then most likely go out into another job, but then the Army turned into a home.”
Despite being eligible to leave the Army in 2004, his passion and sense of duty made him stay.
“I enjoyed what I was doing at the time and didn’t really want to get out,” he said. “I was getting job satisfaction from it. We were still in the heights of the war on terror, and there was a sense of duty. It was not time to get out; the country needed me in that position.”
Through his work, Taylor learned a number of valuable life lessons.
“Hard work pays off,” he said. “Life is a team sport. You don’t get anywhere without help from others, and you have to help other people. There is evil the world, and maintaining a strong defense is important to the survival of the nation.”
Taylor also sees the value in his career and the importance of serving the country.
“The profession of arms is an honorable profession,” he said. “It can be a couple years, or it can be a whole career. It’s a great place to learn, to test yourself, to be a part of something greater than yourself and to do something that your nation needs.”
He emphasizes that the nation needs more young men and women who are willing to serve.
“Military is not for everybody,” he said. “The nation needs the young generation. They need heroes in the young generation to put the nation above self. You’ve heard it before: Freedom is not free, so if there isn’t somebody willing to raise their right hand to defend the nation, it won’t be here in the future.”
The Army has taken Taylor around the world and shown him new sides of life, but his greatest inspiration still comes from right here at home.
“My two biggest heroes in life are my parents,” he said. “They are my role models in every way.”
Taylor also named two of his Altoona teachers as being especially influential. Sixth-grade teacher Tom Bradley and high school history teacher C. Richard Shaffer are two individuals whom Taylor has kept up with from high school into his adult life.
“He’s one of the most mature, personable students I’ve ever taught,” Shaffer said. “To see him get as far as he is in the military just astounds me. I know he’s doing great work for our country, and I’m so proud of him.”
“Mark was a model student and a fine gentleman,” Bradley said. “I always tell people, even though I left the classroom, I still have some of my greatest thrills when I have a student come back and tell me some of the great accomplishments they’ve had. I’m proud to have had a role in advancing Mark in school.”
Today, Taylor lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife and two children.
“My biggest prizes are my family,” he said. “They are front and center, my two kids and my wife.”
Throughout his career thus far, Taylor has always taken pride in his roots and the support he has received from home.
“Mark has always been proud of his roots in Altoona,” Carole Taylor said via email. “He has fond memories of the Altoona VA and all the support from them, the Curve baseball and the citizens of Altoona.”
The Taylor file
Residence: Alexandria, Virginia
Family: Wife, Meredith; son, Carter, 9; daughter, Carolyn, 10 months; parents, Robert L. Taylor and Carole Taylor; brother, Robert B. Taylor.
Education: Altoona Area High School, Class of 1993; the United States Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1997