Finding Purpose: Pursing an MBA after U.S. Military Service

‘The veteran network is incredibly strong’

Never underestimate the power of community.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force for nearly five years, I’m proud to be a member of today’s veteran network. I made a lot of great friends during my deployments over those years and they’ve proved helpful later in my life.

Starting from the brotherhood we formed in service, I’ve seen friendships grow into powerful mentorships, helping steer me to an MBA at UC Davis and navigate any potholes along the way. More on that later, but first, allow me to back up.

Deployment to the Middle East

From 2011 to 2015, I gave the military everything I had. I couldn’t be prouder of my effort and role in serving my country. I wanted to do my part and get a sense of justice for 9/11. Joining the Air Force helped me do that.

I was chosen to work with the Air Force’s Weapon School at Whiteman Air Force Base, where I had the honor and privilege of serving alongside some of the greatest people one could ever meet.

Zach Hunter MBA 22 and the CENTCOM Forward-Jordan (CF-J) Team at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC).jpg
Zach Hunter and his unit at the CENTCOM Forward-Jordan (CF-J) team at the King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC).

In 2015, I was deployed with the Army 1st Armored Division in support of Operation Inherent Resolve for the Combined Joint Task Force, and I worked in the CENTCOM Forward Jordan (CFJ) in the Middle East.

While deployed, I helped create current intelligence products on the activities of terrorist and rebel groups during the Syrian Civil War. This intelligence was published to the U.S. intelligence community, as well as the Jordanian government and Jordanian military.

When I returned from deployment, I knew it was time to move on from the military and look at what’s next. Many veterans describe it as a feeling, but I knew it was time when I had accomplished the goals I had set out to achieve in the military.

Finding My Purpose

The day I got out of the Air Force was 21DEC2015, and I already had a job lined up doing contracting work. Life was looking good, really good. I was set to make four times as much money doing only one of the jobs I had done for the Air Force. So, I thought, ‘What’s not to love about that?’ As it turns out, quite a bit.

I got bored. Really bored. I felt like I was wasting my life while I could be doing greater things. Although I was working for a great company and in a good job, it just wasn’t for me. I had to be honest with myself about it, so I started thinking about my next transition.

Zach Hunter MBA 22 on flight home from his deployment in Jordan.jpg
Zach on his flight home from his deployment in Jordan.

I began matching my military skills with a business career. I landed in finance, as there is quite a bit of similarity between financial analysis and intelligence analysis. Technically, if you think about it, business is a war, fought with money, instead of soldiers.

I decided to put in my two-week notice and return to school to get my bachelor’s in finance. Oh, and I had to move back in with my parents again at 26—I’m really proud of that one!

Those decisions turned out to be some of the best I’ve made.

MBA Veterans

I was lucky to be awarded a scholarship to complete my bachelor's from Sacramento State, and it came from a fellow veteran, Aleem Noorani.

Aleem is a U.S. Army veteran who has become quite accomplished in business. When I first arrived, we chatted and he quickly became my mentor. He has guided me quite a bit and I am incredibly grateful for his mentorship. Transitioning out of the military is tough, but the greatest asset a veteran will find to overcome that challenge is other veterans.

When he transitioned out of the military, Aleem had a fellow veteran mentor himself, and that’s helped him put everything in perspective—it’s all about paying it forward. When he asked me what I wanted to do, I told him, and he advised me to get my MBA.

He told me all about MBA Veterans, and their annual career conference, and what an amazing opportunity it is. It’s a conference where top employers meet with veterans from highly qualified MBA programs for top jobs. I told Aleem I was considering attending UC Davis for my MBA, as it meets the criteria for the conference, and he got me in touch with Kyle Tarvin, another veteran, and Aggie alum.

I trust the word of fellow veterans more than anything, so when Kyle said UC Davis offered a good program, I knew immediately that it was the right choice for me, and I was right.

MBA student Zach Hunter and fellow veteran Aleem Noorani.jpg
Current UC Davis MBA student Zach Hunter (right) displays his undergrad degree alongside fellow veteran and mentor Aleem Noorani (left).

A Call to Action: UC Davis Full-Time MBA Program

I have greatly enjoyed my time at the Graduate School of Management. It’s been a fun challenge keeping up with the fast pace of the program and learning new skills. I also really enjoy the small cohort and getting to know my new peers.

The MBA Veterans conference has also been enjoyable. I plan on attending that every year because it’s just like seeing a bunch of old friends I haven’t seen for a while—it’s an absolutely phenomenal event, and I recommend it to all veterans looking for their community and navigating through career changes.

The Full-Time MBA program also helped me earn an interesting internship with The Wine Group, and it turned out to be a great experience. I assisted in analyzing wine industry mergers and acquisitions, and I built an automated Python data analysis program for weekly advertisement analysis.

Now that I’m a few years removed from my service and have moved fully into the world of business, I have friends who are reaching out to me for advice with their own small businesses. It feels good to be someone they can rely on, and it’s enriching to offer my advice.

Looking back at my transition, it was important to me to share my story. I hope I can be a source of inspiration for any veterans who may be reading this and contemplating their own transition. The fact you are even considering it, and that you researched far enough to click on this post, should tell you the answer. Just know, there are lots of us who have done it before you, and we can help.

The veteran network is incredibly strong, and I would be more than happy to chat with you. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

UC Davis has opened so many more doors for me than I thought it would and I am excited to see what happens next.