Tim Zehnal, Navy (Ret)
Different from most, my careers evolved oppositely. I began my career in the Food Service Industry at the age of 12 working at a church camp on the weekends in the winter and the entire summer until I was 16. At that point I became employed by a hotel, in my hometown, that had two restaurants and a catering facility. Because of my work ethic I was asked to work in all three during my employment there over a three-year period. After graduating from high school, I went to a small junior college where I attended for one year. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. During that year I met a representative from a university called Johnson & Wales and their Culinary Arts program in Providence, RI. I had heard of this school before and was very interested as I spoke with her. After a two-hour conversation I knew what I was destined to be. From my experience at the camp and the hotel, I developed a passion for cooking but never thought that I would become a Chef. The following year I began my education at J&W and thoroughly enjoyed it. Because of my experience I felt as though I had a bit of an advantage over the other students in the Culinary Arts program. I attended J&W for two years and graduated with an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts. Before graduation J&W had a “Career Day” where Executive Chefs and Food Service professionals came in and held interviews with students getting ready to head out into the industry. I had seven interviews and in turn seven job offers across the country. I chose the one that I wanted the most and ventured across the country to Lake Tahoe and began working at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. This was the beginning of a long and successful career. I was hired into my first Executive Chefs position at the age of 25 and worked my way up the ranks into a couple Corporate Chefs positions and finished out my career in the healthcare industry as a Regional Executive Chef overseeing 12 hospitals.
One thing that I learned from my Grandfather many years ago was, to take care of people. He did this without hesitation and after spending so much time with him it just came naturally to me. Working as a Chef is very rewarding but can be very difficult. But that wasn’t enough for me, so I joined the local volunteer fire department. Because of how quickly I learned and my leadership skills I was elected to be an officer (Lieutenant) leading firefighters into fire, accident and rescue calls. I served with two different departments over 14 years. But that wasn’t enough either…..
While in the fire department I became friends with one of the other firefighters. He began to talk to me about joining the Navy Reserve. He had spent 5 years on Active Duty with the Navy and then went into the Reserves. It sparked my interest as it was another way to serve the people and it was something I had thought about before. So, at the age of 36, in 1999, I enlisted in the Navy Reserve through a program that they had for people who already had a profession called “Advance Pay Grade”. I came in as an E-4, Third Class Petty Officer and my Rate (MOS) was Mess Management Specialist. I was originally assigned to a Fleet Hospital Unit which lasted a day. My friend that talked me into enlisting was in the Seabees and that’s where I wanted to be. Even though I wasn’t a typical rate for the Seabees I was assigned to work in the Supply Department where I dove right in and my career in the Navy began. During 16 years of my 23 year career I have served with three Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (21, 24 and 18) and spent seven years in the naval Special Warfare community providing support and leadership to the active duty SEAL Teams. I made rank quickly and was initiated into the world’s greatest fraternity, The Navy Chiefs Mess, in 2013. I would maintain that rank through the rest of my career. I’ve done four full deployments and been on two special missions with the NSW community. I finished my career working for SOCOM in Little Creek, VA as a Recovery Care Coordinator/Patient Advocate for the Warrior Care Coalition. Our job was to take care of and work with members that sustained injuries or conditions from combat or combat training requiring medical care, medical equipment needed, to continuation of care during recovery. We also worked with members who were either separating or retiring from the Navy, filing their VA claim, internships as well as strength and conditioning programs. This position was very rewarding. It gave me the opportunity to take care of people who really needed it, my Brothers and Sisters in arms. What a way to end a career!
Today I am on the Board of Directors for a Non-profit in Maryland, serving as the Grant Proposal writer where I request funding from foundations to help support the programs we will be running such as equine therapy, reintegration classes, wellness classes with a focus on Veterans and First Responders suffering from PTSD and anxiety. Over the next couple years and as we expand the programs, I will be relocating out to western Montana where we incorporate a second location and will have different programs.