By LYDIA BERGLAR
Southeast Lineman Training Center has a long history of helping veterans and active duty service members transition from the military to linework. The lineman classes often have around 90 veterans, and before each class graduates, a school-wide ceremony recognizes students who have served in the United States military. SLTC gives these students American flag hardhats.
For the current class, the hardhat ceremony was on October 26th, recognizing the 60 veterans in Class 72.
Shannon Love, an Army veteran who is now a supervisor at SLTC, spoke at the ceremony, reflecting, “When I was discharged from the Army, I didn’t really think about being a veteran or what that means. I didn’t serve because I thought I was different from anyone else. The fact is, you are different. You have some reason that made you volunteer to serve this nation…I have the privilege to be a part of your transition into work and career as a lineman where you all can be successful in part because of your discipline and leadership which you learned in the military.”
Of the 60 veterans in Class 72, 20 are still active duty and will complete their last few months of service after graduating from SLTC. Through a Department of Defense program called SkillBridge, military personnel can get a head start on training for future careers when they near the end of their contract.
SkillBridge describes itself as “an opportunity for service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training, apprenticeships, or internships during the last 180 days of service…Service members can be granted up to 180 days of permissive duty to focus solely on training full-time with approved industry partners after their chain of command, field grade commander, provides written authorization and approval.”
While SkillBridge is one way SLTC attracts service members, another key way is through word-of-mouth. This is how two veterans currently at SLTC heard about the school. Jesse Summers was an infantryman in the Army, and Cal Conner was a SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman) in the Navy.
For Summers, his path to the Army and then to SLTC came through friends. “I had a close friend who was in the Army and influenced me to join, and I joined for what everyone kind of joins for: the camaraderie and all the values you get out of the military.”
After five years, Summers completed his contract in August of this year, and after graduating from SLTC, he plans to return home to North Carolina.
He said, “I’d been wanting to come to SLTC for over two years. I wanted to go into linework, and I remembered that a friend from high school had come here. The pole circles are run a lot like a platoon. It’s kind of like a military-type organization, so the transition’s been really smooth.”
Conner said, “I joined the military because I wanted to do something more hands-on than college. My cousin was joining the Marines around the same time I was going in, and my grandpa served in the Navy. I wanted to do something for my country and family.”
Conner served for 11 years and completed his contract in July of this year. He heard about SLTC from a friend he grew up with. “After talking to him, SLTC sounded like a good program and I looked into it a little bit more. After coming here, I found out that I made the right choice. They have a lot of veterans that are in the class as well, and they have a good structure that made the transition pretty easy.”
Conner plans to work in Knoxville for a few years before moving back to upstate New York to be with family.
Of the similarities between military service and linework, Conner explained that it depends on your job in the military – some are more active than linework, while others are less intense.
An instructor at SLTC for nearly four years now, Kelly Slater is also a veteran, having served in the Marine Corps from 1991 to 1995. He learned linework through on-the-job training, saying, “It was different back then. We didn’t have a lot of schools.”
Slater notices a difference in veterans at SLTC and some of the younger students. He said, “Coming out of the military a little bit older can feel like being behind in life, but they’re not. They’re really ahead. SLTC is rigorous, but definitely not as rigorous as being an infantryman in the Army or being a SWCC operator, but it’s also not like working a nine-to-five job. They’re used to working in platoons and fire teams, and they’re going to work on a crew where we depend on each other for safety.”
He noted that many good companies prefer to hire veterans because of the character traits and experience they have. Of Summers and Conner, Slater said, “It’s going be a good transition for them.”