Utah vets are ready for the solar industry

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of Energy, center, poses with Solar Ready Vets participants March 25 at Hill Air Force Base’s solar array field. The participants, comprising the first class from Hill AFB, graduated later in the day during a ceremony featuring Sherwood-Randall as the guest speaker. Hill was chosen to be part of the program based on the number of exiting military personnel from the installation, the strength of the surrounding solar market, and the capacity of nearby training institutions. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of Energy, center, poses with Solar Ready Vets participants March 25 at Hill Air Force Base’s solar array field. The participants, comprising the first class from Hill AFB, graduated later in the day during a ceremony featuring Sherwood-Randall as the guest speaker. Hill was chosen to be part of the program based on the number of exiting military personnel from the installation, the strength of the surrounding solar market, and the capacity of nearby training institutions. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, addresses Solar Ready Vet graduates March 25 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, addresses Solar Ready Vet graduates March 25 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Master Sgt. Robert Hollenbaugh, 75th Security Forces Squadron, connects an electrical circuit to install solar panels on a solar array during the hands on training portion of the first Air Force cohort of the Solar Ready Vets program. Program participants graduated March 25 and are now certified to design, install and troubleshoot solar systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Crystal Young)

Master Sgt. Robert Hollenbaugh, 75th Security Forces Squadron, connects an electrical circuit to install solar panels on a solar array during the hands on training portion of the first Air Force cohort of the Solar Ready Vets program. Program participants graduated March 25 and are now certified to design, install and troubleshoot solar systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Crystal Young)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Chase Warner is from a small Wyoming town with rustic charm, a small grocery store that closed at 6 p.m. and an industry based in agriculture.

For Warner, this wasn't enough. He joined the National Guard, enrolled in college and pursued a marketing degree, but when he graduated the only industry near home that was hiring was oil and gas.

Warner learned a lot about energy, but when oil and gas prices dropped enough to cause major energy corporations to lose stock value last year, he was one of a large wave of people laid-off. He is a retired Ammo Team Chief for the 1/148th Field Artillery Battalion with the Idaho National Guard out of Blackfoot, Idaho. The day after he was laid off, President Obama announced the first cohort of the Solar Ready Vets program at Hill Air Force Base during a visit here in April 2015.

"I am interested in solar sales, but I value the intimate working knowledge of the technology. Knowing everything about the product will help me become a positive advocate for the solar industry," Warner said. "Getting in on the ground floor will help me achieve my career goals. "I believe this is a technology that will be used more and more. Producing your own clean energy is like growing your own garden in the back yard -- it is just an important thing to understand. I want to help make people more self-reliant."

Hill Air Force Base celebrated the graduation of the first group of Solar Ready Vets in a ceremony March 25, 2016. Program Manager Capt. Joshua Tate said the program certified 18 participants who have mostly indicated a desire to stay and work in the solar industry in the local area.

Solar Ready Vets is the confluence of two government initiatives, the SunShot Initiative and the SkillsBridge Initiative, that seek to train and place service members transitioning to the civilian workforce into the solar energy industry. 

"You all have served your country, this will help you continue to serve, just in a different way. Thank you for being part of the first course at Hill Air Force Base and the first in the Air Force," said Col Ronald Jolly, 75th Air Base Wing commander during the ceremony.

Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, also thanked the graduates for their participation in the pilot program that will help determine how the presidential goal of helping more than 700,000 veterans find jobs after leaving service will be met.

"The Air Force has already lined up four bases, and that is a good thing -- because you are the largest consumer of energy in the federal government and this is a positive step to building an energy secure future," Sherwood-Randall said to the graduates. "This program reflects our commitment to help you find meaningful work following your service. As you graduate today you are leading the way. Your experience and [feedback] will shape the course for those who follow in your footsteps."

In conjunction with the Department of Energy and solar partners in the community, the course was delivered by the Salt Lake Community College at Hill Air Force Base and included condensed online coursework on the solar industry and hands-on training designing, installing and troubleshooting solar circuits and panels.

The Salt Lake Community College program is among the first programs in the nation able to work with the DOD to allow servicemembers to use their GI benefits to pay for courses that lead to solar industry certification.

"They are a great group of students with a great instructor, but the learning curve was steep," said Judy Fisher, continuing education director with Salt Lake Community College. "They had an intensive eight week course that usually takes 16 weeks. Taking some of the coursework online gave them the flexibility to participate because many of them are still active duty and have their regular duties to accomplish."

Information gathered from the course participants will be used to evaluate the course and help optimize collaboration between partner organizations before the next course is underway.