From the Marines to Microsoft: One family’s journey

Nov 23, 2015

 

Rick Weil had a difficult choice to make in 2008. A captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, he’d served as a supply officer and company commander for several years, including an eight-month deployment to Iraq. If he stayed in the Marines, he’d have the chance of advancement to higher rank, as well as all the career and family security the military offers. But he’d be deployed again — and with his first child on the way, Weil didn’t want to miss another minute of his family life.

When members of the U.S. armed forces decide whether to stay in the service or transition to civilian life, they’re not just choosing for themselves; they’re determining the future for their families as well. According to the Department of Defense, more than 1.3 million men and women are currently serving active duty, and more than half of them have spouses and/or children. Of course service members aren’t just choosing a career path; they’re following a call to duty, one that they and their families know to be far more important than the challenges they may face along the way. But military family life does bring stresses that include frequent moves as service members transfer between bases in the U.S. or overseas, as well as lengthy separations while a service member is deployed. Leaving the military brings the challenge of finding a new career that can offer a family the support and stability they’ve come to count on.

Today Rick and Sarah Weil live in the Seattle area with their two children. Rick is a site reliability engineering program manager for SharePoint Online at Microsoft; Sarah is a personal trainer. From living on base and weathering Rick’s deployment to moving thousands of miles for new career opportunities, the two of them have learned how military and civilian life affects families — and how families can best prepare themselves for those transitions.

Service and leadership from the start

Sarah Weil knew what to expect when she married Rick. Military service was a family tradition, and she married Rick shortly before he deployed to Iraq.

 

Sarah Weil knew what to expect when she married Rick. Military service was a family tradition; her grandmother, grandfather and father had all served. Her brother was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy when he invited her to attend a national boxing tournament where he and Rick, then a classmate, were competing. Sarah and Rick started dating long-distance while he attended the academy and then completed Marine Corps officer training after graduating. They married not long before he and many of his fellow Marines were due to go overseas as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I’ll never forget our wedding; we were on the ship in San Diego with everybody in their uniforms and dancing,” Sarah says. “But we knew that not long after that, most of them were going to be deployed. Everybody was just holding onto each other, knowing that that was coming.”

Rick and Sarah were stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, living close to the base. Rick served as a supply officer, managing the budget, purchasing and inventory for millions of dollars’ worth of assets. For the last two years of his service he was also a company commander, responsible for the readiness, well-being and mission effectiveness of his troops.

“The Marine Corps throws you in the deep end; I don’t know of any other institution where you’d be responsible for 200 employees at 25 years old,” Rick says. “You have to learn how to be a professional problem-solver, especially with the Marine Corps mentality of pushing decision-making down to the lowest levels. That sort of mindset breeds innovation.”

Sarah had a leadership role as well, joining her fellow officers’ wives to help military community members — providing moral support for those facing family separation, and Thanksgiving food and Christmas presents for families who were struggling financially. She also set goals that combined her career as a personal trainer with her family focus; for example, while Rick was deployed in Iraq, she followed through on a plan to appear in Shape Magazine, then proudly sent him the issue.

“Once you become an officer’s wife you are definitely an example,” Sarah says. “It was tough but we knew that deployment was going to be coming. I decided I was going to better myself while he was there; we both made it a positive.”

Rick acknowledges that while it’s important to set the example of a positive attitude for others, such a lengthy separation can be hard for a family.

After one eight-month deployment to Iraq, Rick decided he didn’t want to miss another minute of his family life.

 

“That stretch was from August to March; it encompassed my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s,” Rick says. “It’s always difficult, but it’s all about your mindset. It makes you really appreciate what we all tend to take for granted; sleeping in a warm place and being able to have your family with you all the time is something that we reflect upon often just to make sure we don’t take for granted our lives now.”

During his deployment, Rick committed himself to the welfare of his troops as well as to his own development, completing courses for a master’s degree. Sarah proudly explains that Rick was known as “the people’s captain.” But both were relieved when Rick came back to the U.S.

“You always see the pictures of folks getting off the ships and their families are there,” he says. “It’s cool to go through that once — but once is good enough.”