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Solar Ready Vets program to begin first class at Hill AFB

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFNS) -- The Solar Ready Vets program announced by President Barack Obama during a visit to Hill Air Force Base in April 2015 will begin training the first class of 24 veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce.

The training, which begins Feb. 1, is being provided by Salt Lake Community College in partnership with the Department of Energy, which oversees the initiative. Some of the training will take place in Hill classrooms and some will be online "self-driven" learning.

"We've got to be relentless in our work to grow the economy and create good jobs," Obama said during his visit. "I think everybody here at Hill understands that one of the most important aspects of national security is strong economic security."

Hill was chosen to be part of the program based on the number of exiting military personnel from the installation, the strength of the surrounding solar market and the capacity of nearby training institutions.

The base acquires 20 percent or more of its overall energy from renewable energy sources. The base's solar array installation was completed in June 2009, making it Utah's largest ground-mounted photovoltaic system at the time.

"We take pride in the energy initiatives we have underway here," said Col. Ron Jolly, the 75th Air Base Wing installation commander.

Obama said the new program is one of many steps to help nearly 700,000 veterans and military spouses get a job.

Hill is the fourth base to implement the program, which is already underway at Camp Pendleton, California; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia; and has already delivered 150 military veterans ready-to-begin careers in the solar energy career field, one of the fastest growing job sectors in the country.

While veterans are not guaranteed a job, the DOE reports that all of the participating veterans have been extended job offers from renewable energy companies participating in the initiative. Starting salaries for these types of positions average $20 to $24 per hour. The program prepares veterans to be strong candidates for a wide range of solar energy careers, including management, photovoltaic installation, sales and technical positions.

According to the DOE, the Defense Department is the largest consumer of energy in the federal government. So, to meet new goals set out in an executive order signed March 19, 2015, for the federal government to reduce emissions, some of the Solar Ready Vets graduates may return to bases, helping build solar arrays that improve energy security.

The program is tied to the DOD's SkillBridge initiative, a program designed to equip active-duty military personnel within six months of moving to veteran status with skills to enter the civilian workforce.

The DOE is working with the DOD to expand Solar Ready Vets to a total of 10 military bases by late spring 2016.

"We have eight currently registered with more Airmen expressing interest every day. Many are currently working through the application process," said Capt. Joshua Tate, the deputy director of the 75th Force Support Squadron.

The classes are paid for by the DOE during the startup phase and funding for continuing classes can be paid for by the members' GI Bill benefits, Tate said.