MY SOLAR “MISSION”
by Kevin Sova
Military Outreach Coordinator
Solar Energy International
After 22 years, 5 months, and 14 days I took off my US Air Force uniform for the last time. I had served on 5 of the 7 continents, lived in 8 different states, and interacted with countless people across the world. I can’t say all my time in the Air Force was rewarding, there were plenty of times I had asked myself “what the hell am I doing and why the hell am I here?”, but there were also plenty more times I felt pride in knowing what I was doing was for a greater good.
I started my Air Force career on the bottom rung as an Airmen First Class (A1C) working as a mechanic on the flight line with only a high school education and retired almost 23 years later as a Major with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a master’s degree in Computer Engineering. My real forte in the Air Force was cyber security which as most know is a booming career for those with the experience, education, and most importantly the federal security clearance; I had all of that on my resume and more. It is very common in all military jobs that the person sitting next to you is wearing a uniform one day and the next day they are in civilian clothes as a contractor. My exit path from the Air Force and subsequent on-ramp to a government cyber security contractor job seemed fairly straight forward and obvious to everyone; that is, obvious to everyone but me.
Making a change
Although working in cyber security is a worthwhile and rewarding career, the stress that goes with it had already aged me well past my actual age. I needed a new career. I needed to reinvent myself. Most importantly, I needed to do something, like the military, that would give me the ability to continue a mission; to work for something bigger than myself again. I had determined it was time to part ways completely with Government life and branch out into my lifelong passion which was/is renewable energy. My problem was I had no experience, knowledge, nor education in solar. I looked around for ways to gain an education in renewable energy and at first all I could find were 2-year programs through community colleges. I didn’t like the idea of wasting time and money to take a bunch of unrelated courses, most of which I had previously taken. That was when I found the non-profit solar training school Solar Energy International (SEI).
One of the most attractive aspects of solar is whether you are looking to help the environment or want to provide US security through energy independence, solar has something for everyone to get behind. I hate sounding like an ad and I hope this doesn’t come across too much that way, but SEI is an awesome way for military to break into the solar industry. I spent only 2 months in the beautiful and unique town of Paonia CO attending classes at the SEI campus and finished my Residential and Commercial PV Systems Certification, Battery-based PV Systems Certification, and attained my Associate level NABCEP. The fact that SEI is a non-profit institute, has been in existence since 1991, can provide certification in under 2 months, and has experience training military through the Solar Ready Vets programs at Fort Carson and Camp Pendleton, were just a few of the things that, for me, set SEI apart from other institutes. Two years ago, SEI received approval to accept VA funding. Now military members can use their GI Bill to attend, completely free of charge, both SEI’s in-person certifications for Residential/Commercial PV programs and SEI’s Battery-Based PV programs. Also, because SEI is a non-profit their tuition rate for their entire professional programs are about equal to that of two semesters at a community college! This low tuition rate leaves the majority of the military members’ Post 9-11 GI Bill untouched and available to be transferred to dependents, or saved, for future college.
How Solar can change your future
After graduation from SEI, and even during training, I was amazed at the amount of job opportunities that were available in the solar industry. Many of my fellow classmates were offered good jobs even before we finished our final classes. I personally had 4 different job offers prior to graduation; solar, like all industries, loves hiring military. In 2016 the US solar workforce grew by an incredible 25% and that number is on track to more than double by 2020. I personally was eager to start using my new-found knowledge to turn photons into usable energy when I was approached by SEI and offered a Military Outreach Coordinator position with them. Knowing the amazing opportunities solar presents to my fellow ex-military brothers and sisters and how SEI training can get them into the field, I couldn’t pass up the chance to pay it forward and help other military transition to their next “mission”, a solar mission.
Most transitioning military will never again find the type of job satisfaction and esprit-de-corp they experienced while serving their country. I can speak first hand on the depression that one feels taking off that uniform for the last time and asking themselves “what now?”. For me, and many others, SEI and the solar industry has helped fill that void and provided a path to not only a new good paying career, but also a job that makes it easy to get out of bed in the morning.
If I can help you or anyone you know that is active, separated, or retired military, by providing information about Solar Energy International’s military training programs, or about the solar industry as whole, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out the SEI website at www.solarenergy.org for more information on upcoming classes and programs.