By Greg Gebhardt

Glasgow. Kabul. Fort Bragg.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians (89D) within 71st Ordnance Group train extensively during Special Operations Forces Support Training (SST) to increase mission readiness as well as survivability in hostile urban environments for future deployments at Fort Carson, Colorado, Oct. 29, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Apolonia Gaspar)

Eight time zones and more than 11,000 miles separate these locations, yet one segment of our population is uniquely connected to all three: veterans.

As we commemorate Veterans Day for the first time since leaving Afghanistan and closing the book on the “War on Terror,” world leaders are also closing their own book on the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, where they’ve spent the past two weeks addressing the most pressing issue of our time: climate change.

I’m sure you’re wondering, “What’s the connection between the end of war on terror, climate change and veterans?”

Allow me to explain.

When I transitioned out of Fort Bragg from active duty in 2012, I did so with much trepidation, anxiety and loss of purpose, like thousands of veterans do every year. For the first time in my professional life, I wasn’t told what to wear, where to be and when to be there — and it was paralyzing. One day, I was CPT Greg Gebhardt, United States Army. I was part of a team, living a purposeful life and belonging to something bigger than myself.

But the next day, I was simply Greg.

I no longer belonged to a team. I wasn’t committed to purposeful work. I struggled. I battled depression and tried to find my way. I wondered how a guy like me — combat veteran, West Point graduate, married to my high school sweetheart with a beautiful newborn daughter — could go from the top of the world to wondering where he belonged in it. And all in 24 hours.

National Guard Soldiers from the Minnesota-based 34th Infantry Division pack a U.S. Air Force-operated C-17 in August following the completion of their mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charles Anderson)

As the final U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane departed Kabul, Afghanistan this summer, I know many of my brothers and sisters still serving, and those who recently transitioned to civilian duty, are having the same thoughts I did nearly 20 years ago:

“Where do I belong?”

“What am I training for now?”

“What is our mission?”

“What can I do now?”

And those are all fair questions and valid thoughts.

But the question that we need to answer is, “What can we do to help these veterans transition back into civilian life as smoothly as possible?”

Well, one way we can do that is to introduce them to meaningful and purposeful work. Provide a landing spot where they once again can be part of something bigger than themselves. We can offer them the opportunity to be part of the effort to tackle the climate crisis and join the clean energy transition.

Not only do I know the struggle of finding a purpose-driven career after leaving the military, I know veterans have much to offer to the clean energy transition. I spent two years working for a utility-scale solar developer, traveling the country talking about how renewable energy is but just one solution to addressing the climate crisis. While this line of work wasn’t the exact same brotherhood I found in the military, especially while deployed, it filled a void by letting me be part of something bigger than myself. It allowed me to once again feel as though I was giving back to my country. And I know other veterans must feel the same way, too.

The Solar Foundation’s 2018 National Solar Jobs Census found that veterans account for nearly 8% of all solar workers in the nation. While at the same time, veterans account for 7% of all workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I trust veterans will continue to find a home in the clean energy transition and serve in that capacity.

I’m fortunate enough to continue to give back in this manner today, as I work on corporate alliances for Duke Energy. In this role, our team collaborates with Fortune 50 companies, where much of our discussions center around emerging technologies.  More specifically, we discuss how an industry-leading utility can continue to provide safe, reliable and clean energy while remaining committed to being a good corporate citizen and doing our part to address the climate crisis.

So, when the out-briefs from Glasgow conclude in the coming weeks, do not be surprised to see more and more of my fellow veterans — specifically those of the Iraq and Afghanistan generations — answer our nation’s call once again.

But this time it will be to lead the charge to address climate.

It only makes sense given our desire to live purposeful lives and commit to a cause greater than ourselves.

Greg Gebhardt is a Duke Energy strategic account manager, supporting the needs of new and existing customers of the company’s commercial brand, Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions. Greg Gebhardt also serves as a Major in the North Carolina National Guard, as well as the operations officer of the 105th Engineer Battalion in Raeford, North Carolina. 

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