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Saluting America’s wind power veterans: Teaching the next generation

Saluting America’s wind power veterans: Teaching the next generation
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This Veterans Day we want to thank the thousands of wind workers who have served our country. Your teamwork, knowledge and dedication help make wind’s American success story possible. The skills veterans develop while serving make them perfect candidates for careers in wind—U.S. wind power is proud to hire veterans at a rate 67 percent higher than the average U.S. industry.

Steve Hrkach is one of the many veterans shaping wind’s future. As the Wind Technology Program Instructor at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming, Steve is training the next generation of wind technicians, where he finds nearly all his students have well-paying jobs lined up before graduating. And he estimates about 25 percent of the trainees going through his program come from veteran backgrounds.

Being back in the classroom is also a familiar place for Steve, as his teaching roots spread across 25 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. Steve joined the Air Force in 1987 and retired in 2012 as a Chief Master Sergeant. During that time, he worked as a maintenance instructor for the Minutemen ballistic missile program and as a technician on energy supply and distribution systems, among other areas.

Upon completing his service, Steve took an interest in wind. He had seen turbines in Palm Springs and Tehachapi while stationed in California and was “mesmerized” by them. He worked for several companies servicing turbines across the country before settling into his teaching position in Cheyenne, and he found the skills he nurtured while serving positioned him well for a career in wind.

“It felt like the skills I learned in the service would be similar,” Steve told me. “The only difference was instead of going 50 feet underground to work on a missile I’d be going 200 feet above ground to work on a turbine.”

As for why veterans are such a good fit for wind, Steve has plenty of ideas.

“In civilian life, sometimes people are taught to pass the test,” he said. “But in the military, problem solving and critical thinking are taught daily.”

He also sees a difference in the veteran students who take his course.

“They’ve traveled, they’ve been on their own, they’ve had to be at work on time. These are valuable skills,” Steve said. “The vets tend to be a little more motivated, they tend to be some of my best students.”

And believe it or not, working in wind shares some similarities with working in missile defense. There could be 200 missile silos spread across 25,000 miles, just like there could be 200 turbines spread across thousands of square acres. In either case, you definitely don’t want to have to traverse back to the maintenance shed if you forgot something…

Thank you Steve, and all of our veteran wind workers, for your service!

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Greg is AWEA's Deputy Director of External Communications. He is the head editor and writer for Into the Wind, and oversees AWEA's online content and opinion writing. Greg holds a Master's degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University's School of International Service. He also holds a Bachelor's degree in International Relations and Journalism from Lehigh University.

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