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APRIL COMMENTARY
by Stephen Freese


Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country


Going about our daily tasks, we may think about great times we’ve had at work or with our families, but sometimes we may also think about the hardest things we’ve ever done at work. For me, one of the hardest things was attending, as a state legislator, the funerals of Lance Corporal Nicholas Anderson, a United States Marine who was killed in Afghanistan, and of United States Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Bossert, killed in Iraq. These two young men had their country behind them and should have had most of their lives still ahead of them, and I remember the feeling of inadequacy standing alongside the governor and offering condolences to family members of these two fallen American soldiers. 

Many other Wisconsin men and women have died defending the United States. It’s sad when the sacrifice men and women have made, serving in uniform to protect our way of life, goes unnoticed, and veterans returning to Wisconsin from active duty face many challenges. The Department of Labor reports that in 2014, 7.2 percent of veterans were unemployed. Among all veterans in Wisconsin, the unemployment rate for 2014 was 4.3 percent. Rural America supplies 45 percent of military recruits, an interesting statistic considering only 17 percent of the U.S. population calls a rural community home.

So I was pleased to see the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) recognize the challenges faced by returning veterans, launching a co-op coalition looking to veterans to help build a next- generation workforce that meets 21st Century technical and leadership demands. The “Serve our Co-ops, Serve Our Country” program is the coalition’s commitment to seek military professionals for local employment opportunities in rural and suburban communities. This focus will give returning veterans a chance to come back to their hometowns and find job opportunities at their local electric cooperatives. 

The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) will join NRECA and our member cooperatives showing our appreciation to these returning veterans and hopefully utilize the skills and experience they acquired in the United States armed forces. Military values—duty, selfless service, honesty, loyalty, excellence, and courage—directly align with cooperative principles and values. 

 Over the coming months we’ll be developing an electric cooperative resource guide to connect veterans with job opportunities at rural Wisconsin electric cooperatives. This guide will provide veterans with resources that can deliver specific assistance to them. WECA will be working with each of our 25 member cooperatives to prepare them for this partnership. 

Our hope is that in the future you’ll have an opportunity to thank a returning soldier applying his or her skills in the co-op office or on the power line going by your home.

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