Veterans find parallels in military and co-op careers
Across the state, dozens of veterans have found rewarding post-military careers with Kentucky’s electric cooperatives. We interviewed several to learn what led them into military and cooperative roles—and the similarities they’ve found between them.
Service planner, Owen Electric
Brandon Day believes many veterans discover rewarding careers in Kentucky’s electric cooperatives for a simple reason: co-op work and military work share a kindred spirit of service.
“If you’re going to be in the military or you truly want to work for a cooperative, as opposed to other types of utility companies, then you have to have an attitude of service,” he says. “If you don’t have a [service] mentality, neither place may be the fit for you.”
Day joined Owen Electric as a lineworker in 2018, following more than a decade working with contractors and municipal utility companies. He was drawn to the career having watched his uncle, a retired Owen lineworker, and feeling that the job is “like an art.” Day switched to his new service planner role just last year.
The Grant County native initially enrolled in college to pursue a landscaping degree, but two years in, he decided to enlist as a Marine reservist after attending a friend’s inspiring Marine Corps boot camp graduation at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“The drill, the cadence, the pomp and circumstance of it all—it was a great recruiting tool for me,” Day says.
In all, Day served seven years as a Marine reservist with a unit based in Cincinnati. He saw four months of active-duty deployment in Iraq at the beginning of U.S. involvement in 2003, before being sent home early to attend his father’s funeral.
Day was trained as a vehicle maintenance management specialist and also held roles that included primary marksmanship instructor, platoon sergeant and media liaison.
Day vividly recalls being in boot camp on 9/11, after having signed on as a reservist in February 2001.
“That definitely put into perspective what we were training for,” he says.
Third class lineworker, Taylor County RECC
With roughly 18 months as a professional lineworker under his belt, Conner South readily sees similarities between his co-op work and his former experiences in the U.S. Army, where he was an 11C indirect fire infantryman—sometimes called a mortarman— based at Fort Drum, New York.
For starters, he says, everyone in both roles is trained to get the work done despite stressful situations and challenging weather conditions.
The 2016 Bowling Green High School graduate enlisted and served in the Army between 2017 and 2021, having been drawn to the military as a means of serving his country and gaining job opportunities and direction. During his final three months of active duty in the Army, South attended a three-month lineworker training school in Georgia to prepare for his chosen civilian career.
South, who is married and has two young daughters, loves camping, fishing and being outdoors—and he loves that his career as a lineworker doesn’t confine him to an inside office. He also appreciates the opportunity to be working in Taylor County, where he grew up.
“I really like working in an outage environment, such as following a storm, where everybody comes together as a team to get the lights back on,” South says. “It’s a very rewarding aspect of the job, and it feels similar to our focus in the military of helping out in service to a bigger cause.”
President/CEO, Farmers RECC
As a 3-year-old at his uncle’s U.S. Marine Corps boot camp graduation, Toby Moss declared that he would follow in the footsteps of his dad and uncle to become a Marine. The Florida native never wavered from that goal, graduating high school early so he could enlist at 17.
Stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Moss served as an active-duty Marine from 1987 to 1991 and 1995 to 1998, working as a Marine reservist in the interim.
During his service, Moss was deployed to Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq as part of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. Along with other members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he also participated in Operation Silver Wake, which evacuated Americans and other non-combatants out of Albania during civil unrest in 1997.
To this day, Moss’ closest friends are the Marines he served with. They still call each other annually on Nov. 10, the Marine Corps birthday, to honor the occasion together. The military also taught Moss much about the value of continuous improvement strategies and strong management skills—lessons he tries to implement daily in his leadership role at Farmers.
Moss’ first civilian job after the Marines was working as a telecoms field technician for MCI and, later, AT&T. He earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees with GI Bill support and made the switch to the utility industry, landing positions with companies like Landis+Gyr before moving to a role with Florida-based Clay Electric Cooperative. There, he rose to the position of chief information officer before leaving to join Farmers in January 2023.
Moss says Kentucky has been “very welcoming” to him and his wife, and he’s found a supportive community at Farmers very similar to the one he loved so much in the Marines.
“In the military, everyone is from different places and backgrounds, and yet you all come together and are dealing with the same challenges, so it becomes this tight-knit family,” Moss says. “I’ve found that to be true here at Farmers. There’s a familial culture to this company that I’m proud to be part of.”
Crew foreman, Kenergy Corp.
The organizational approach of line crews—and their orderly chain of command, from manager to foreman to lead lineworker and so on—suits Blake Cowan well. A crew foreman at Kenergy, Cowan found it easy to seamlessly transition into his job as a lineworker in 2014 following three years of Army service, because the two roles were so similar.
“I spend more time with the people I work with at Kenergy than my actual family, if you think about it,” Cowan says. “It’s a brotherhood, very much like the military. When there’s a storm and we get that late night call, we’re all going out there, not for the overtime, but because we each have our buddies’ backs.”
Even operations to restore power following storms—such as Cowan’s volunteer trip to Louisiana following Hurricane Ida— can feel like a military mission.
“You get all your guys together, your tools and your trucks, and you head out for long hours together,” Cowan says. “It can almost feel like a deployment.”
The Webster County native graduated high school in May 2010 and completed basic training the next month at Fort Knox. After being stationed at Fort Drum in New York, Cowan was immediately deployed as a reconnaissance scout in Afghanistan with the 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, for roughly six months, from late 2010 through early 2011.
He used the GI Bill to pay for lineworker training school in 2014, first landing a job with a traveling contractor before joining Kenergy in 2016 to have more time at home with his wife and daughter in Owensboro.
In his spare time, Cowan serves as an executive officer for a Kentucky chapter of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association—a group that’s enabled him to meet and bond with other combat veterans from across the state and country while raising funds for various veteran support initiatives.
“[Riding] is my clear-my-head time,” Cowan says. “It’s been so rewarding to have this way to connect with other veterans.”
Purchasing coordinator, Inter-County Energy
Doug Walker’s long career at Inter-County began with lineworker responsibilities in 1997, followed by about two decades in the co-op’s construction and maintenance divisions, leading to his current role as a warehouse purchasing coordinator. In that time, Walker has had ample opportunities to draw on training from his previous Marine responsibilities as a communication field wireman and, later, a payroll clerk.
“My military work as a wireman, where I learned to climb poles, directly led to my work [as] a lineman,” says Walker,
who served as an active-duty Marine based at Camp Lejeune from 1983 to 1988 and again from 1989 to 1993. Walker also served in the Army National Guard from 1993 to 1996, winning soldier of the year for his Harrodsburg-based unit, along with three Army achievement medals.
The Danville native followed the footsteps of his uncle and several other family members into military service straight out of high school, choosing the Marines initially because it “stood out as a challenge,” he says.
During his Marine service, he was stationed on several six-month “floats” aboard Navy ships, including one called the USS Harlan County—giving him a chance to explore ports in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and South America.
“I really enjoyed seeing how people live in different parts of the world,” he says.
Since accepting the purchasing coordinator position five years ago, Walker has approached its challenges with the problem-solving mindset he first gained as a Marine.
“It was a bit challenging keeping crew equipment stocked and ready during COVID, with all the supply chain issues,” Walker says. “But I worked hard to try to get the guys what we needed, so we were ready for storms or anything else that popped up.”
Tool makes exploring post-military career options easy
Veterans and transitioning service members who want to explore potential civilian career options can investigate possibilities through www.mynextmove.org/vets, a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. Users can search for job types by industry of interest or look for careers that match their individual military rank or training.
Kentucky Career Centers offer job assistance services for veterans
All Kentucky Career Centers across the state offer targeted job services for veterans, often delivered by staff who are veterans themselves. The career centers can assist veterans with job searches, interview preparation, resume writing and more. Find the office nearest you.