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From service to success: National University empowers Navy veteran’s academic journey

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Navy veteran Rico Macaraeg’s journey into the service was infused with youthful dreams of seafaring adventures and a commitment to building a life without struggle. 

As the eldest of five siblings, he navigated a journey marked by the ebb and flow of relationships, marriages and divorces. He reflected on his upbringing, one shaped by the intricate dynamics of his blended family.

“My parents tied the knot young, just teenagers and the inevitable strains led to their separation shortly after my birth,” Macaraeg shared. “My parents had us two boys and after their divorce my mom had another son and my father remarried and had two other children. I used to joke that I knew what WIC was before I knew my ABCs but it’s true.”

His recollections of his early years paint a vivid picture of resilience amidst financial constraints, punctuated by moments of joy and anticipation. “At the end of each school year our highlight was the ritual of school shopping,” he explained. “That type of upbringing really instilled a sense of humility with me because I recognized that the world was much more tangible, meaning I learned to respect and care for the things I did have.”

Accompanied by his mother, he and his siblings embarked on a pilgrimage to discount stores. They were allowed to pick everything they wanted for the following school year and then it was brought to the back counter, stored away for the summer. 

“In those days, layaway was a lifeline,” Macaraeg said. “My mom worked two jobs and did the absolute best she could to provide a good life for all of us. It didn’t even matter when a lot of those clothes didn’t fit by the time school started; we were happy.”

Navigating the transition from adolescence to adulthood, Macaraeg found himself at a crossroads, his dreams outstripping the confines of his Navy town, Silverdale, Washington. “Options were scarce,” he reflected, acknowledging the prevailing paths of his peers: a blue-collar career at the shipyard or enlistment in the military. 

The 9/11 attacks influenced him to raise his right hand, as did his grandfather and uncle – both Navy veterans.

“There was a sense of patriotism compelling me to join, mixed with this desire to just get the hell out of my town,” Macaraeg laughed. 

When he enlisted in the Navy, the vision of sailing the open seas was at the forefront of his mind. It didn’t exactly go as planned. 

“It was a different kind of Navy,” Macaraeg reflected. “A world of BTUs, camis and tactical gear replaced the iconic uniforms of the high seas.”

As a Master at Arms, part of the Naval Coastal Warfare division, he’d be deployed all over the world to conduct anti-terrorism and law enforcement missions. He laughed about his dreams and visions of being on a ship for his career and took the ribbing from his “salty” relatives with good humor. 

“When I’d visit one of my friends on his ship I’d get yelled at because I had no clue what I was doing boarding it,” Macaraeg said. “My deployments included Iraq, Kuwait, East Africa, Djibouti, Central and South America.”

It was not merely the external landscapes that transformed his outlook, it was the internal metamorphosis wrought by the crucible of military service. 

“The military widened my aperture,” he said. “It taught me to navigate the complexities of the world with strategic acumen while remaining grounded in the present.”

After eight years in the Navy, Macaraeg was ready for his next adventure. When Donald Wilde pulled him into in marketing at the Navy Exchange with the stipulation he’d go back to school, National University was ready for him. 

“He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself,” Macaraeg said. “Donald recognized my potential as a marketer, despite my lack of formal education in the field. Honestly, I was scared. I didn’t have the grades when I was in high school and definitely didn’t have the money back then. But the GI Bill took care of one of my worries. The rest was up to me.”

With the support of his admissions advisor, Jen Humana, Macaraeg embarked on a rigorous academic path while balancing the demands of full-time work. The transition from military service to civilian life was not without its challenges, as Macaraeg grappled with the nuances of workplace etiquette and the rigors of academic coursework.

His graduation from National University with a Bachelor’s in Organizational Leadership Development marked a pivotal moment in his journey, a testament to his ability to adapt and thrive in new environments.

“It was more than just a degree,” he reflected. “It was a validation of my ability to succeed outside the confines of the military.”

Macaraeg pursued and earned an MBA at Georgetown University. Armed with his new-found knowledge and expertise, he ascended the ranks of corporate America with remarkable speed, ultimately reaching the coveted C-suite. 

“As you ascend the ranks, whether in the military or in business, the focus shifts from execution to influence,” he explained. “My education at National University equipped me with the skills to lead, inspire and drive organizational performance and laid the foundation for success.”

Macaraeg’s perspective on the value of education for veterans resonates deeply with his own journey of transition from military service to civilian life. With a resounding “yes,” he advocates for veterans considering higher education, citing the transformative power of academia in equipping them with the tools and skills necessary to thrive in civilian roles.

“School teaches you how to redeploy the skills you learned in the military,” he said. “It’s a transition tool, a soft place where veterans can test and refine their hard-earned skills in a civilian context. For veterans contemplating higher education, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. It’s a journey worth embarking on – —one that leads to personal growth, professional success and a brighter future.”

He spoke admiringly of his own husband’s journey from the Peace Corps to becoming a successful lawyer paired with his own life experiences, saying they often have to “pinch” each other to remind themselves their life is real. 

“We’re grateful for everything we have,” Macaraeg said. “But we also recognize the responsibility that comes with our privilege – to use our platform to effect positive change and uplift those who may not have had the same opportunities. I want to leave a legacy where I can make an impact in people’s lives like the people who believed in me did.”