Reign FC Legend: Sarah Rhoads

The Legends Campaign, a partnership between Seattle Reign FC and Avanade, honors women for their extraordinary contributions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Prior to our May 19 match against the Chicago Red Stars, Seattle Reign FC will recognize Sarah Rhoads as a Seattle Reign FC Legend.

Sarah Rhoads is the Director of Amazon Air, and a former F/A-18 fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. Growing up in Montana, Rhoads was inspired to pursue aviation after seeing an air show at age 7. She would go on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating, she served on active duty for 12 years. Sarah was the first female aviator in the history of the VFA-41 Black Aces squadron.

Rhoads started at Amazon in 2011 as an Operations Manager. She would later become a Senior Operations Manager, General Manager, Regional Director of Operations, and Director of Aviation Operations. Her time with Amazon has sent Sarah from Kentucky to Texas to the United Kingdom to Seattle, where she currently resides.

Q: When did you first become interested in serving in the military?

A: My interest started at a very young age. Frankly it was coincident with my desire to become a pilot. I grew up in Montana, and air shows would come to the state about every other year. My folks took my sister and me to an air show, and I knew at about the age of seven that flying high-performance military jet aircraft was something I wanted to do. It was something I was really in awe of. I set a goal at that point in time, and didn’t really waver from it. Also, knowing that I’d be the third generation in my family to serve our country helped form my decision to be a military pilot.

Q: What are you most proud of from your time in the U.S. Navy?

A: I’m most proud to have served our country and delivered on expectations to the best of my ability. I had the real privilege and honor to have worked with incredible people.

Q: What drew you to your role at Amazon?

A: As I finished my commitment of active duty service, I started considering some options as I began a transition into the civilian sector. One company that reached out to me was Amazon. The leadership principles of the company resonated with me. Three of those principles in particular hit home: insisting on the highest standards, delivering results, and ownership.

I didn’t necessarily know specifically what I was going to do when I transitioned out of the Navy, but I knew three criteria had to be met. I wanted to: work with large teams of talented people like I did in the Navy; be positively challenged; and have a dynamic role where each day would be different. I can honestly say after seven years with Amazon, all of these requirements are still satisfied every day.

Q: What’s the biggest difference between military life and civilian life?

A: In the military environment there was very little room, if any, for error. There were more one-way doors. In other words, once a decision was made, there was typically no going back. At Amazon, I have more two-way doors. If something doesn’t work, I usually have an opportunity to try a different approach without catastrophic results. In my current role, I have a fairly wide aperture to innovate, build, disrupt, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

Q: What were the challenges of being the first female aviator in your squadron?

A: The greatest challenge was the pressure I put on myself. I never wanted to give anyone any reason to not think I was qualified to do the job. I knew that my performance could set a precedent for others to follow, so I always gave 110% to make sure I did not fail.

I was very fortunate to be on a world-class, high performing team that pushed each other to be the very best. Gender was not an issue.

Q: What advice would you give to women as they consider their education and career paths?

A: Follow your passion, whatever that may be. I recommend that people set goals, and not think any goal is beyond reach. It’s important to have a plan. Embrace the small victories, learn from setbacks, and keep going.

Q: Your call sign was Diamond. Where did that come from?

A: I suppose it is a round-about compliment from my squadron mates. Call signs are typically “earned” in the Navy. It didn’t take long for fellow aviators to realize I was kind of a perfectionist. If you know how diamonds are formed, pressure applied to carbon yields diamonds. I could be presented with an issue, apply pressure to the challenge, and would ensure the result was a nice, shiny diamond, or so they say!