Steven Valentine is a Wind Tech 2 at Clearway Energy’s Elbow Creek Wind project in Big Springs, Texas. He is a U.S. Army veteran.
I was still a new aircraft mechanic working at a tiny airport when 9/11 happened. The impact was felt all over the country for years. For those of us working in the aviation industry, it was an especially huge upheaval in the way we did business and enforced security.
The fallout in the aviation industry was stark. Many companies reduced the number of new mechanics on the payroll. The company I worked for, a flight training school, was forced to shut down completely. This was the first of what would be four layoffs over the next three years for me. I struggled to stay employed and provide for my family in an industry just learning how to adapt to a new reality. Finally, I decided I had had enough. It was time for me to do my part and be part of the solution while also taking care of my family. On September 7th 2006, I enlisted in the U.S. Army.
I decided to enlist for a six-year term as a helicopter engine mechanic. With a civilian license and past experience under my belt, I was enlisted as a Specialist and started in a leadership role on day one. I quickly learned how to manage people from all walks of life and with different personalities. I learned to accept an ever-changing environment and to adapt to last-minute changes in plan. Figuring out how to deal with people in the most hostile and stressful environments possible was the most profound, useful, and important lesson of my life.
After my enlistment, I began working for aviation companies, including Lockheed-Martin and even SpaceX. However, budget issues and the uncertainty of contract bidding meant instability and more layoffs. It was time for a career change and some certainty.
Because of their service experiences, many veterans have a different outlook on challenging situations. We learn how to prepare for and mitigate hazards while working in stressful environments. When I came across an opening for a wind technician position, I knew my military background had prepared me for the rigors of the job. Nobody shooting at me and I get to go home every day? Sign me up!
My skills as an aircraft mechanic transferred easily. I again found myself dealing with people from all corners of the world in challenging and stressful situations, but because of my service I was accustomed to keeping a level head and focusing on the task at hand. It felt like second nature.
Just like in the military, personal protective equipment is a major concern. Wearing the right gear and planning mitigates risk and surprises. Wind is just a different application of the same skillset. These are skills veterans have had drilled into their heads since “Shark Attack” day in basic training. This is an industry where we can thrive because we are accustomed to mission-focused work, working together as a team and making good decisions under stress.
Wind has been a great fit for me and has helped me reintegrate into civilian life more smoothly than aviation. I finally have a career that offers stability and I don’t have to worry about providing for my family. Not to mention the breathtaking views we get working uptower just after sunrise. Have a happy Veterans Day everyone!