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Home From Iraq, Veterans Seen as Perfect Candidates for Green Jobs

Thousands of veterans are entering the job market, and many are finding opportunities in the green industry, from leadership to service

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When Navy veteran Harold Coleman went green it turned his life around. The 41-year-old general contractor was homeless just two years ago. Then he came across a local program that helps veterans re-enter the job-market by providing financial support and access to certification classes. Coleman now owns a business that retrofits homes to increase energy efficiency and decrease utility bills. He attributes his success in this industry to skills he learned 20 years ago in the Navy.

Coleman said his company -- North Star Development, LLC, based in St. Louis -- will be hiring dozens of people this year, and he sees veterans as the perfect candidates for green building positions. As a prime example, he recalls a retired master sergeant with no residential construction experience he recently hired.

"She was able to complete a training program that a lot of science-type people don't successfully complete," he said. "Her dedication, her discipline, her strength in getting to the task, I'm sure she got that as a result of 25 years in the United States Air Force." And now, Coleman said, "She is completely dedicated to the green jobs initiative."

The military is "the strongest force in the U.S. government right now working on renewable energy and energy efficiency."

As the United States withdraws all remaining troops from Iraq this month, thousands of veterans are entering the job market, and many are finding opportunities in the green industry -- from manufacturing to leadership to service.

Despite the 8.6 percent unemployment rate, the U.S. has a labor shortage in skilled technical manufacturing, said Kate Gordon, vice president for energy policy at the Center for American Progress, "and it's exciting that there are people coming back who may have some of those skills who can help fill that void." Businesses like Coleman's, which retrofit houses for better energy efficiency and lower utility bills, are an area of opportunity because they use many American-manufactured materials, she said.

Manufacturing comprises 26 percent of the green economy, compared with just nine percent of the broader economy, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution, the non-profit Washington think tank. And Jobs in manufacturing can be perfect for military personnel because of the technical skills they develop, which aren't widely available in the U.S. today.

The military is "the strongest force in the U.S. government right now working on renewable energy and energy efficiency," according to Rona Fried, president of sustainablebusiness.com. "They've reduced their energy demand on the bases by implementing pretty standard -- and some innovative -- energy efficient changes," she said, "like converting your basic barrack, which has absolutely no insulation."

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Austin B. Smith is a reporter for the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C., covering national security issues and transportation.

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