Thursday, June 13, 2024

Military Appreciation Month – Local Coronado Navy Kid Promotes to Air Force General

Official Air Force Photo of Brig. Gen. Christopher Zidek.

Chris Zidek promoted to Brigadier General in the United States Air Force in April, 28 years after graduating from San Diego State University and earning his commission through their Air Force ROTC program. Born and raised in a Navy family in Coronado, Chris was inspired from a young age to serve his country as a military pilot. From his early years watching the Blue Angels at the Miramar Air Show, to the release of Top Gun solidifying his passion to fly, Chris knew he was meant to conquer the skies. While his initial plan was to be a Naval Aviator, he altered course after talking with a co-worker who was an Air Force ROTC Cadet from the SDSU ROTC program while working at Peohe’s in Coronado. His co-worker was sharp and the way he carried himself made a lasting impression so Chris asked if he could help him set up a meeting with the AFROTC program, and ultimately Chris earned an AFROTC scholarship.

Chris said, “I liked that ROTC was a nice balance of what I’d call a ‘normal’ college experience, going to regular classes and then participating in the required military academics and drill periods that were held twice a week. ROTC taught me many things: leadership, effective communication, how to operate as part of a team, and perhaps most importantly, living the Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service and Excellence.”

Chris Zidek with his father Mike and Mom Allison as they pin on his new Air Force rank.

Chris’s parents met in Coronado in 1969, they got married and a few years later Chris was born at Coronado Hospital. He lived in Coronado until his father took an assignment at Camp Smith in Hawaii where Chris would graduate high school at St. Louis School. He chose to come back to the area and attend San Diego State University while working in Coronado and reconnecting with childhood friends. His fondest memories of Coronado were time at the NAS North Island O’Club Pool, pitching for his little league baseball team that won several championships under the stellar coaching of former Mayor Tom Smisek, and building and flying radio controlled airplanes at Tidelands Park. He said a lot of the store fronts have changed in Coronado but the lifestyle is the same with people biking around town, stopping for ice cream and enjoying the great year-round weather.

Chris with his Coronado Little League Team

General Zidek’s Air Force career has taken him all over the world. His first operational deployment consisted of flying the KC-135 as a 2d Lt was to Diego Garcia, a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. When describing Diego Garcia, Chris said, “It has strategic importance for many reasons. My crew and I were there for several weeks and had a blast flying, fishing and swimming. Ironically, my Dad was stationed here from 1982-83 overseeing a 5-year military construction project.”

Chris went on to share, “My favorite duty station was Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs where I commanded the 302d Airlift Wing (C-130 aircraft) from 2020-22. While the C-130’s mission is primarily tactical airlift, we also had a special mission: aerial firefighting. This often brought us to California and other states during the summers to fight large wildfires. We are the only Air Force Reserve unit that does this mission and our crews go through special certification. It’s dangerous work flying into fires at near tree-top levels, dropping fire retardant, but working closely with our Air National Guard aerial firefighting units as well as state and local partners on the ground, we save a lot of lives and property every year. Colorado is beautiful and so much to do outdoors.”

Chris Zidek with his wife Kate.

After reflecting on his 28 years and his continued service as a General, Chris said, “What I love most about the Air Force are the people. While we have cool planes, none of the magic happens without the Airmen. Whether they fly, fix or support, they put their lives on the line every day to protect our way of life. In fact, every service member does that. I joined the Air Force because I wanted to serve a greater cause. That always ran deep within me and I credit my parents for being the example of service. I’ve worn the uniform now for nearly 28 years and while I could make more money working outside government, I would not trade it for anything else. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a General Officer, but I often say, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans!””

Chris Zidek as a young boy donning his father’s Navy garrison cover.

Chris was happy to share his experiences, his love of service and the Air Force was evident. He made a pitch asking that anyone thinking about the military or who knows someone who is, look to the Air Force and talk to a recruiter. The Air Force has both active duty and reserve opportunities. Chris is serving as the USAF Mobilization Assistant to the Commander, Eighteenth Air Force. He currently lives in Washington D.C. and said, “While it’s fascinating living in our nation’s Capital, it’s not Coronado. I do try to get back at least once a year to visit friends, play golf, cheer on the Padres, have a fish taco and stop by the Hotel Del for a cold beverage. I do miss that weather!”

Chris enjoying the sunny SoCal weather in front of the Hotel del Coronado.

Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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