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Renewable energy offers veterans another chance to serve

As we recognize Veterans Day this year, I want to take a moment to reflect on my experience working as a veteran in the wind energy industry, and why I see renewable energy as so important for our communities.

My path to teaching and leading in the transition to renewable energy was nontraditional, which no doubt was heavily influenced by my time serving as an infantry sergeant in the United States Army.

One of the most defining moments of my military career occurred while serving in Panama one morning while on patrol in a shantytown. The homes in this area were built on stilts over a swamp, and without adequate plumbing, the swamp was filled with everything you could imagine. Having learned from experience that the weight of our gear would cause the stilted catwalk-sidewalks to crumble, we walked directly through the swamp.

As we walked through the swamp, we came across a young girl who was probably 7 years old, playing in that water. She scooped up some water in a sauce pan and poured that putrid water in her mouth. That moment was so defining because I realized that no matter what your thoughts were on U.S.-Panama relations at the time, people the world over deserve so much better. Can you imagine if that community had clean drinking water and access to education?

I returned home shortly after that experience with my mind made up that I would use my civilian career to better my own community and in the course of doing so hopefully help advance our global community.

With that path in mind, I went back to school and earned my degree to be able to teach career and technical skills to high school and college students. For many of those I work with, some of them also veterans, they chose to work in the renewable-energy sector because they also see the broader impact of how renewable energy can benefit our communities.

So many of us veterans have seen some of the most resilient communities face some of the toughest circumstances. For me and many of my colleagues, it led us to recognize something important: a wind farm or a solar field could help a community ensure access to clean water, save countless lives by minimizing disease exposure, and help change the trajectory for our youth like the girl in Panama.

The wind industry as a whole employs veterans at a rate 61% higher than the national average. I believe the wind industry is such a draw to veterans in part because it gives us an opportunity to work with a mission in mind and use our skills for the betterment of our communities. Renewable energy offers good-paying, stable careers, and wind and solar technicians are the first- and third-fastest growing careers in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More importantly, this path appeals to so many like myself because we see the benefits renewable energy can offer for the good of humanity.

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