Jim Carney

Before he wore a uniform in the United States Army, Tim Gorrell wore one as a defensive back with the University of Akron football team.

He remembers one moment clearly: an Acme-Zip game at the Rubber Bowl in 1978 before a sold-out crowd of 35,000.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is probably as close to the big time I’ll get and it doesn’t get any better than this,’?” recalled Gorrell, 55, a native of Toronto, an Ohio River town just north of Steubenville.

His career turned out pretty well, though, one filled with service that continues in a new role this week.

Gorrell retired as a colonel in 2012. During his 31 years with the U.S. Army, he made 17 moves and served in a long list of posts.

On Friday, a new chapter begins when Gorrell takes over as director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. He is charged with making sure the state’s 900,000 veterans receive their entitled benefits.

The department’s “main mission is to identify veterans living here in order to connect them with the benefits they’ve earned,” Gorrell said. “We do that by working in tandem with the five military branches and National Guard, along with organizations like the American Legion, VFW and the other national organizations as well as with the county veterans service offices.”

The agency, he said, also conducts outreach to vets and coordinates training with the 88 county veterans service offices. It is responsible for the Ohio Veterans Bonus program and operates Ohio Veterans Homes in Sandusky and Georgetown.

He replaces the retiring Col. Tom Moe, and will earn the same $116,400 salary as his predecessor.

Gorrell joined the Army as an enlisted soldier on a delayed-entry program his senior year at UA. After being trained as a medic, he enrolled in Officer Candidate School.

The UA graduate’s travels took him to Germany, where he met his future wife, Lisa Tagsold, to Kuwait, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Pentagon. He returned to UA in 1997 as professor of military science, a post he held until 2000.

Gorrell said today’s veterans, including those who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “face similar challenges of those who came before them.”

Some need help finding a job. “Others will require disability assistance, health care and/or mental health services from the VA.”

The state agency “can help connect veterans with every educational or job-training resource they need.”

He noted that Gov. John Kasich recently signed an executive order that requires colleges and state licensing boards to develop ways by which veterans can get college credits or vocational certification on the basis of military training and experience.

Gorrell said his greatest concern for veterans is “that the American public loses sight or forgets the debt of gratitude our veterans deserve.”

Whether a veteran served in wartime or peacetime, Gorrell said, “whether they were drafted or volunteered, Americans throughout our history have stepped up and answered the call to service. Some paid a heavy price, either by sacrificing their lives or sustaining serious wounds.”

The country and state “owe them our gratitude and support, whether it is assuring them gainful employment, education, training, medical care or simply acknowledging and expressing our appreciation for defending us and our way of life.”

Gorrell entered UA in the fall of 1976. He left school the next spring, when his father, Les Gorrell, became ill and subsequently died.

In the summer of 1977, he returned to school and made the football team as a walk-on. He became a scholarship player in 1978, 1979 and 1980.

Jim Tressel, then a graduate assistant at UA and now the university’s vice president for student success, worked with Gorrell during his first months on the football team.

“There is nothing that makes a coach, teacher, or parent prouder than to see the extraordinary accomplishment of one of their own,” Tressel said.

“Col. Tim Gorrell took the lessons of ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ presented by coach Jim Dennison and our staff, coupled with great instruction from our faculty, and the world’s best leadership training as taught by our U.S. military, then crafted a career that led him back to his alma mater to serve the next generation.

“We are so proud of Tim and all of the brave men and women who have served and led so that we could enjoy the benefits of freedom.”

Veterans seeking assistance are encouraged to contact their local county Veterans Service Office by calling 877-OHIO-VET (877-644-6838) or by going to www.ohiovet.gov.

People seeking information from the Ohio Department of Veterans Services can call 614-644-0898 or email ohiovet@dvs.ohio.gov, where questions for Gorrell may be sent.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.