San Jose Mercury News
When military veterans search for jobs, they often want more than a paycheck. Many say they look for rewarding work and a team of dedicated people focused on a common mission.
With the war in Iraq officially over and the American presence in Afghanistan winding down, many veterans are finding new careers and that strong sense of purpose in the growing clean-tech economy.
Some are helping build the massive solar farms sprouting up in California’s deserts. A black POW-MIA flag flies every day at BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar plant under construction in California’s Mojave Desert, courtesy of a project superintendent who was a Marine in Vietnam.
About 10 percent of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla Motors’ global work force of 3,000 employees are veterans or military hires. The company has built partnerships with several military placement organizations, including Hire America’s Heroes, which connects American companies to top military talent, and Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has been providing services to veterans for more than 40 years.
“Veterans are the perfect fit for Tesla because many of them gained incredibly advanced technical, electrical and mechanical skills in the service that are directly applicable to manufacturing electric vehicles,” said Tesla spokeswoman Shanna Hendriks. “Veterans are taught to be leaders within the context of a cooperative team, and that is exactly how Tesla works — allowing employees to think outside the box while working hard toward a common goal.”
Hendriks added that many of Tesla’s veteran employees say they are “especially happy to be working in the green sector after observing how fossil fuels have promoted violence and damaged the climate around the world.”
The Department of Defense — eager to reduce its dependence on oil in the battlefield and keen to become energy-efficient at home — is investing in clean technology, including advanced biofuels, electric vehicles, solar-powered batteries and bases that generate their own electricity. The support of clean energy is directly tied to saving lives, says Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has pointed out that for every 50 convoys of gasoline brought into a war zone, a Marine is killed or wounded.
About 20 percent of the roughly 800 workers constructing First Solar’s 550 megawatt Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., are veterans.
“We’ve got a lot of guys from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they’ve taken on leadership roles,” said Richard D’Amato, who oversees construction at Topaz, which First Solar says will produce enough electricity to power 160,000 homes. “They are used to working hard in less than great conditions. It can be 110 degrees on some days.”
D’Amato, who was a Marine during the Vietnam era, says veterans bring something special to First Solar — intense pride and esprit de corps.
“The way to get off of foreign oil is through wind and solar. Our guys believe in it,” he said. “It’s a rallying point, especially in California, where the cost of energy is so darn high. I’ve met their families, and their wives always say, ‘What you guys are doing with renewable energy is great.’”
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