Veterans Day: Finding Oneself in Service of Others

While some arrive at their calling as if by decree, others have to hustle and often persevere to get there. Captain Ramsey Abdulrahim’s journey to finding and securing his true north was anything but a foregone conclusion.

Veterans Day: Finding Oneself in Service of Others

While some arrive at their calling as if by decree, others have to hustle and often persevere to get there. Captain Ramsey Abdulrahim’s journey to finding and securing his true north was anything but a foregone conclusion.

In 1985, Ramsey was born into an immigrant family in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, a Law Professor from Lebanon, had found it hard to integrate and find a job befitting his qualifications in the US, and made the choice to move the family back to Beirut. Ramsey’s mother, a second generation American, traces her roots to Lithuania. In fact, her father had served in the Polish army during the Second World War.

In the eighties, Beirut was the epicenter of a long-fought civil war. Ramsey has recollections of constant shelling and being carried by his father out of his pre-school as they hurtled down the streets of Beirut amidst chaos. “I realize that it’s rare among service members in the US to have had that experience as a civilian in a war environment”, says Ramsey.

Returning to the United States in 1990, the family moved to Philadelphia. However, Ramsey’s father was still working in Lebanon and could only visit for two weeks every year. The distance took its toll and his parents eventually went their separate ways. Growing up in inner-city Philadelphia with a single mother raising him and his sister, was not easy. Mother and son butted heads constantly during this time and when he was 16, he was “kicked out” of the house. He stayed with his maternal grandmother till he was 18 and then moved in with a high-school friend. While he was accepted at Temple University, the only way he could afford it was by taking two jobs in fast food, where he worked the night shift. Reflecting on that period in his life, he says, “I was robbed twice on my shift as a manager [at a fast food restaurant] at 19-years old. It was a time-delayed safe, so one time I spent ten minutes with a gun to my head, praying that I had entered the right code.” He adds, “I nearly lost my life at such a young age for the few thousand dollars in that safe. For me, that was a profound experience.”

Upon graduating from college in 2008, he joined the ranks of thousands of job seekers who were looking to breakthrough in the midst of the great recession. This struggle to land on his feet gave him pause, to reflect, in order to move forward. He reached back into his past to understand who he had once aspired to become. When your true north resides within the depths of the being that you outgrew years ago, it lends purity to the lens through which you view the world and the compass with which you navigate its intricacies.

For Ramsey, growing up in Philadelphia, in the shadow of 9/11, he realized that the person he wanted to be was a Marine who would serve his country. “The boy in me would not allow me to live with myself if I did not roger up, if I did not raise my hand” he says. “I was able to go to college, get a Pell Grant, work two jobs to support myself, and through gumption and hard work was able to get to this point. While I knew there was more to accomplish, I also knew that I had to give back for all the opportunities that this country had provided me”, he states definitively.

In 2008, armed with the clarity that “there’s so much about this country that deserves my full effort”, he applied to Officer Candidates School, the Marine Corps’ school for screening and evaluating officers.  The course takes 10-weeks and has an average attrition rate of 30-50%. Captain Abdulrahim only made it through the first 7-weeks on his first attempt. Bent but not broken, he returned in 2010 only to suffer stress fractures in his legs after 7-weeks, leading to his second dis-enrollment. “I didn’t believe in giving up. I had to finish what I’d started,” he says. Finally, in 2013, he made it through as one of the top performing candidates in his class.

Mission accomplished? Hardly! As a reserve officer in the Marine Corps, Captain Abdulrahim feels that many Marines come from backgrounds even more disadvantaged than his. He finds that the Marine Corps provides structure, guidance and mentorship opportunities for these individuals, an incremental nudge, that in turn helps put them on a path of hope and confidence.

Even though it is just a weekend each month and a few weeks each year that reservists come together, it is a chance to make a difference in the lives of these young men and women, and Captain Abdulrahim relishes that opportunity. Today, this takes on greater significance for these young Marines who may be impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

In addition to just being a stellar person, his credibility quotient goes up with his fellow Marines when he displays his work swag. “They all know what Activision is. It’s just the right demographic, especially with Call of Duty”, says Captain Abdulrahim. Interestingly, his credibility extends across both the military and civilian worlds that he straddles. For 6-years, he was a designer at a small studio called Forgotten Empires and worked on the ‘Age of Empires’ franchise known for its Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games. He actually started with them when he was deployed in Romania, and then continued working part-time as he worked at JP Morgan Chase, and also as he went to business school at Chicago Booth.

Captain Ramsey Abdulrahim joined Activision Blizzard this past summer on their MBA Graduate Rotation Program. This program recruits and develops diverse leaders from MBA programs who, over three 8-month rotations, spanning two years, are exposed to different functions and parts of the Activision-Blizzard-King family, including the studios. In his first role in the rotational program, Ramsey is embedded with the Production Management Group for Call of Duty.

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