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Zuleger uses Air Force experience to advocate for dairy policy

Amy Throndsen for Progressive Dairy Published on 08 November 2021

Integrity first.

Service before self.

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Excellence in all we do.

Sounds like that could be the motto for dairy farmers, and for some, it’s likely close to the farm’s written mission. It is actually the core values of the U.S. Air Force that ground service men and women.

Those core values are ingrained in Chad Zuleger, who retired after 23 years of service in the Air Force and the Wisconsin Air National Guard, and who now serves as the associate director of government affairs for the Dairy Business Association (DBA).

We know that many consumers are at least one generation, if not two or three generations, removed from the farm. Those who support and advocate for dairy farmers are also further and further removed from the dairy. Zuleger has fond memories of his great-grandparents’ dairy farm near Colfax, Wisconsin, but, like many, Zuleger does not have an immediate family tie to the dairy industry. Zuleger was influenced by his family’s deep tradition in military service. His great-grandfather served in World War I, his grandfather served in World War II and his father is a decorated veteran, commanding a brigade of combat engineers in Iraq at the onset of the Iraq war before retiring from the Army as colonel.

“In the military, we have a saying,” Zuleger says. “Adapt and overcome to get the job done.” Zuleger sees a strong parallel between the military and dairy farming. There is no work schedule for defending our nation; it’s a 24-hour mission, and it takes dedication and commitment most people will never see or understand.

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Zuleger deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. His role was to provide logistical support to a squadron of F-4 and F-16 fighters. He knew his mission and was deeply committed. He was well-trained, and he had grown up hearing his father, grandfather and great-grandfather talk about difficult and challenging times they faced and overcame. He knew that this was his time. “I just had to figure things out. There wasn’t an instruction manual waiting for us when we touched down,” Zuleger says. “I see farmers doing the same thing. There’s no guarantee, and farmers have to figure it out to get the job done.”

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Zuleger uses his passion for conveying the most critical topics to a very specific audience of influence: Wisconsin elected officials. In 2021, only three of Wisconsin’s 132 state-elected officials considered themselves farmers. Zuleger works with dairy farmers, allied industry and other community partners to educate legislators about what farmers are doing and what impact laws they’re considering have on dairy farmers and the state’s annual $53 billion dairy industry.

“Educating lawmakers is a big part of what I do,” Zuleger says. He arranges for elected officials to tour Wisconsin dairy farms and says members of the Legislature are sometimes surprised by how much farmers do and are responsible for in today’s modern dairy operations. They care deeply about their work and their impact on their communities and state. I think legislators are impressed at just how involved today’s farming operation is, how much care is given to the animals – most farmers I know have a genuine affection for their cows – and how farmers act as true conservationists.”

Zuleger recognizes that things seem to move slowly in the Legislature, and that is in large part because legislators have to understand an issue from many stakeholders’ perspectives. This can, however, make for a frustrating and slow process. There is a lot of competition for the time and attention of legislative members, so the work that Zuleger does to connect real people who are Wisconsin dairy farmers to the real people who serve as state legislators is critical to building understanding about the impact of legislation on farmers and their businesses.

“Teamwork is essential in the military, and it’s easy to draw a parallel with dairy farming,” Zuleger says. “Everyone on the farm plays an important role.” The principles Zuleger honed through his military service are central to his ability to work toward a goal without an instruction manual. Building allies and maintaining a relentless work ethic are the foundation of how he supports Wisconsin dairy farmers today.

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“I was fortunate to work with one of the top Air Guard units in the country in Madison, and I feel that same pride knowing that I get to work with some of the top dairy producers in the country through my work with DBA,” Zuleger says.  end mark

PHOTOS: Photos provided by Chad Zuleger.

Amy Throndsen
  • Amy Throndsen

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Advanced Comfort Technology Inc.

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