By Brock Vergakis of The Virginian-Pilot
August 4, 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH

Mike Turkenkopf joined the Navy when he was 19 because the aspiring chef was sick of working seven nights a week in south Florida restaurants.

More than 26 years later, Turkenkopf is ready to return to civilian life. But the explosive ordnance technician has no plans to become a cook again. Instead, he intends to leverage his experiences working with Navy SEALs to transition to the corporate world. He is among the first 20 graduates of The Honor Foundation’s East Coast institute , which prepares special operators for the business world before or shortly after they leave military service.

Special operators are known for being highly competitive team players who can think outside the box and handle high-pressure situations. But many have struggled to market those skills to companies outside of traditional military and security contractors.

The Honor Foundation is a nonprofit based in San Diego that seeks to remedy that problem. It graduated its first fellows in 2013 and expanded to Virginia Beach this spring, using a facility at Tidewater Community College and financial backing from the Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL Foundation. Topics covered included resume writing, networking and entrepreneurship.

The first group of East Coast fellows graduated last week and consisted of 18 SEALs, a special-warfare combatant-craft crewman and Turkenkopf.

“For me personally, I felt like I was sitting at my children’s high school or college graduation and the emotions that go along with that,” said Jeff Pottinger, a former Navy officer who is The Honor Foundation’s chief  of curriculum.

“You’re ready to let them go off on their own and use the skills they’ve learned from us at The Honor Foundation to find success in their job hunt, but then there’s also a piece of you that doesn’t want to let them go,” he said.

The carefully selected fellows were coached for 15 weeks by business professionals and taught by faculty from some of the nation’s most distinguished business schools, including the University of Virginia.

“It’s designed to be executive-level education,” Turkenkopf said. “It’s not so much sitting in a class and receiving MBA-level coaching and MBA-level courses, but it’s being treated like your’e an MBA student. … You’re treated like an executive.”