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People who make a difference: Zach Zabel

Quartermaster, board member, veteran, vice president of programming, founder – Military Veterans Museum And Education Center, Inc., Florian Lampert VFW Post 1908, Tech For Vets, Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, Fox Valley Veterans Council

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June 16, 2023

pAakj6e0nKsOSHKOSH – As a veteran, Zach Zabel – the new vice president of programs for the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce – said there’s an innate comfort in being around other veterans.

“When I’m in a room full of veterans, we don’t have to be the same age, we don’t have to be in the same branch or do the same job – they’re just kind of this inherent shared experience that provides a mental calm I enjoy,” he said.

A good fit
Zabel said he doesn’t have some romantic story about why he joined the military, other than it seemed like a good fit.

“My junior year of high school, the National Guard came in and administered the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test,” he said. “The morning announcement said all juniors and seniors were eligible to take it, and if you elected to take it, you were able to miss all your morning classes – so I did that. I ended up doing really well on it.”

Up until that point, Zabel said he had not thought about the military for half a second.

“I enlisted during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school,” he said. “So, my whole senior year, I knew I was going to boot camp and everything was all set.”

// Zabel

Zabel served six years in the U.S. Navy as an electronics technician onboard USS Carl Vinson.
“We started in Virginia, and then we got a homeport change to San Diego,” he said. “I got to see a lot of cool places along the way. We did humanitarian relief in Haiti… I did two deployments out of San Diego and saw (about) seven other countries.”

After separating from active duty in 2013, Zabel enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO) in pursuit of a business degree.

“I’m actually celebrating my 10-year anniversary of separating from activity, which sounds like a lot of years for some reason to me,” he said.

After graduation, Zabel said he sold insurance for a few years before returning to UWO’s executive MBA program.

Zabel said it was UWO that first got him involved in veterans organizations.

“It was not a cognitive decision on my part,” he said. “I was just doing what everybody else was doing, which is a very military and veteran way to do things. The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has a robust student, veteran community, and through that community, I started working right away at the Veterans Resource Center at UWO.”

Continued connection
Though UWO gave Zabel the nudge to begin volunteering with veterans organizations, he said his involvement with such organizations has continued far beyond college.

This includes serving as Quartermaster for VFW Post 1908.

“The civilian equivalent would be – in the corporate world – a CFO, and in small businesses it would be a finance officer,” he said. “It’s everything from bookkeeping to financial strategy – anything that has to do with money. The Quartermaster is either in charge of it or at least involved.”

Zabel said he served in this role while attending UWO’s MBA program.

“Quite literally, there were things I’d learn in an accounting class on a Tuesday and apply that on Wednesday – trying to optimize the processes that were rather obsolete and ineffective, at least to my measure,” he said.

Career-wise, Zabel said after working in the corporate sector for a handful of years, he eventually transitioned into the nonprofit world – assuming the role of community engagement manager with the Fox Valley Veterans Council.

“The veteran council was my first professional role in nonprofits,” he said. “Up until that point, I’ve been in the traditional for-profit world. In my role as community manager, essentially I was the only full-time employee, so I did everything from answering the phone all the way up to strategic planning, grant writing.”

// Zabel served six years in the U.S. Navy as an electronics technician onboard USS Carl Vinson before attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Submitted Photo

Zabel said career transition into the nonprofit sector in turn opened up even more volunteer opportunities – including a spot on the Military Veterans Museum And Education Center, Inc. board.

“Through my role with the council, I became connected with the veteran community beyond Oshkosh,” he said. “It’s funny that the Veterans Museum is located in Oshkosh, but I was not really involved or connected with them until I got a job in Appleton.”
Zabel said due to his work with the council and his formal education, “I was invited to join the board.”

“I’ve also always been a bit of a history buff,” he said. “And understanding the importance of remembering and memorializing and everything associated with honoring military service – it was a good bit.”

Zabel said he has been on the museum’s board for about a year and a half.

A chance to make an impact
Zabel’s work with the council, the museum and the local VFW eventually led him to the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce and his current role as vice president of programs – which he said has afforded him the opportunity to make an impact.

“When I was on active duty, my job wasn’t anything overly special – there were a lot of folks who did a lot more than I did,” he said.

Zabel said he feels as though his impact, “in the civilian world, I have the ability to provide more value.”
“My role with the veteran’s council was a direct service type organization – that always feels good,” he said. “Now, with the chamber, it is a little bit more indirect because we’re working with businesses, but if we help those businesses hire veterans, it’s an indirect impact on a greater scale.”

Tech for Vets
Zabel said he does what he can to engage other veterans to get involved in some type of veteran organizations.

“I would say find one organization that fits your personality and how you like to engage, and at least once a month have that exposure to other veterans, especially if you work in a space that doesn’t have a lot of veterans,” he said. “If there are veterans who are not engaged in their veteran community, I certainly encourage that.”

With this in mind, Zabel started a nonprofit – Tech for Vets, which is dedicated to enriching the lives of military veterans through education and recreation with a central focus on technology and gaming.

“There is a growing population of veterans who don’t feel connected to the traditional veteran service organizations (VSOs),” he said. 

Zabel said Tech for Vets was created through the recognition of two gaps.?

“A lot of VSOs are run by and optimized for 70-year-olds, which is great – it’s a great value to those folks,” he said. “But not everybody in my generation of veterans feels comfortable in those spaces. So, I wanted to create an alternative, not to replace, but to give an alternative to those that maybe are a little more tech-centric versus tech-phobic.”

Zabel said it also aims to help raise funds for professional development not covered by GI Bills.

“Four-year institutions – it’s not a good fit for everybody, and most of the GI bills, both federal and state, are geared toward those traditional institutions,” he said. “So, that was the other gap I spotted. Somebody who wants to go and get a project management certificate or an IT certificate – they can get it done in two months, but it costs anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. So, (Tech for Vets)… is trying to raise enough money to pay for those veterans who want to participate in those programs.”

For more information on Tech for Vets, visit

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