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Veterans Day Q&A: Dina Frisella Zumwalt ’96

How a flyer on the College & Career Center bulletin board changed her life.

Dina Frisella Zumwalt '96 Family
Dina Frisella Zumwalt ’96 Family

When did you know you wanted to go into the military?

I didn’t know I really wanted to go into the military until later on in high school. I saw a flyer on the Carondelet College & Career Center bulletin board about the United States Naval Academy (USNA) Summer Seminar. Summer Seminar is a weeklong camp at USNA in Annapolis, Maryland, which gives potential midshipmen candidates an initial experience about what life as a midshipman is about. I attended and enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie of life at USNA. I thought, “I can do this.”

My dad was a drilling U.S. Marine Corps reservist at Naval Air Station Alameda during my entire childhood, including high school. Growing up, I used to frequently go to the Air Wing with him, and I would climb (with supervision!) into the helicopters and jets and loved every moment of it. We would drive by the aircraft carriers and I would be in awe of their size. Now I am married to a U.S. Marine who is also the son of a U.S. Marinethe military is a tradition in my family.

What was your role in the U.S. Navy?

I was a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy stationed primarily out of 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, CA. Surface Warfare Officers are ship drivers whose primary duties focus on the operation of Navy warships at sea and train over the course of their career to ultimately assume command of U.S. Navy warships. I served two sea tours on USS Tarawa (LHA 1) and USS Belleau Wood (LHA 3), deploying to the Western Pacific and the Northern Arabian Gulf. I’ve spent time in numerous Asian and Middle Eastern countries including Iraq. I also spent a tour in Coronado, California teaching amphibious warfare to U.S Navy Sailors and Marines before I decided to leave the military to pursue a civilian career.

Any memorable moments to share during your time with the Navyin college or after or both?

Serving in the Navy was definitely memorable! I have many stories from college and as active duty, it’s hard to choose just one. The thing that stands out to me right now is that I returned this week from my 20 year college reunion at USNA. Over 40% of our class attended from all over the world. It was so great to see people I not only went to college, but also worked with. 

You received a degree in economics from U.S. Naval Academy as well as being a college gymnasthow did you balance academics, athletics, club involvement, and your commitment to the Navy?

It definitely wasn’t easy. I used to participate in study groups and spent a lot of time studying with my classmates. In high school, I waited until the last minute to work on projects and study for tests. The Navy broke that bad habit for me. I learned to not procrastinate, maintain a “to-do” list of work, delegate as necessary, and ask for help early on when I needed it. This has continued to serve me well in my career.

Any other thoughts or experiences as a woman in the U.S. Navy?

The Navy was an amazing experience, and I am proud to have served. I’ve traveled around the world and learned to work with people of all backgrounds and cultures. My closest girlfriends are from my Navy days, and we remain close now due to our unique shared experiences. They now are wonderful mothers, have amazing careers, and are outstanding leaders within their companies. I’m proud to know them all.

Any words of advice for students/alumnae considering joining the military?

I would speak to other women who’ve served in the branch you are considering joining to see what their experiences were like and what military career path they chose. There are so many options so it’s important to explore and weigh them all before you commit. When I served, I saw very few women who achieved command or higher ranks of the military and almost none of them were mothers. Now many of my classmates have command and also have a family, it’s great to see this change.

You are a military familyhow do you balance your work commitments with your family life?

My husband is currently a drilling reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps, which frequently takes him out of state for work. When he’s at home, we split kid and house commitments pretty evenly and flex to support each other when either of us has an important, can’t miss meeting or work travel. I definitely couldn’t do what I do without my husband’s love and support and vice versa. 

You work for a veteran-owned company, Epsilon Systems, did you search for a veteran-owned company?

I didn’t search for Epsilon Systems, Epsilon Systems found me! My old commanding officer worked at the company and gave me a great recommendation! I’ve brought on other old shipmates as well. I enjoy working for a Veteran Owned Small Business, because we all have the same backgrounds and a lot in common in terms of prior work experience. My entire hallway at the office is USNA graduates, which makes it a lot of fun come the Army Navy game!


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