From the battlefield to the oilfield: Energy jobs for veterans

One-and-a-half million to 2 million men and women served in America’s defense during the Global War on Terror. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 250,000 service members enter civilian life each year—and that number will rise with the drawdown of soldiers from Afghanistan. As troops return home, they face a new fight: finding a job in a competitive labor market that doesn’t understand how their military experience translates into employees with discipline, organization, and motivation.

Most have served in the Middle East, risking their lives for America, and ensuring an uninterrupted energy supply. They believe in the greatness of America.

Their experiences in the military make these returning veterans ideal employees for America’s booming oil-and-gas industry. Many companies have seen the value veterans bring to their organization and are actively recruiting veterans—both enlisted and officers.

What better way to honor them for their service than to minimize the need to return to the Middle East by making America energy secure, by developing our own abundant resources?

The U.S. oil-and-gas industry has added millions of jobs in the past few years and expects to add more and more—especially with the new energy-friendly Republican-controlled Congress. Just the Keystone pipeline—which is now likely to be built—will employ thousands. Increased access to reserves on federal lands will demand more personnel. But finding potential hires that fit the needs of the energy industry in the general labor pool is difficult, as they lack discipline, the ability to work in a team and, often, can’t pass a drug test. Here the fit for the veteran becomes obvious.

“The number one bottleneck to the oil-and-gas industry,” according to Steve Yen, founder and CEO of Valor Services, a two-year-old professional services firm that specializes in energy-industry career opportunities for veterans, “is having enough quality people to execute business at today’s levels—let alone projected growth.” Yen, a former Army Captain, Ranger, and Bronze Star recipient, who served as an infantry officer in Iraq in ‘06, ‘07, and ‘08, sees veterans as a misunderstood segment of the workforce. Through Valor Services, he wants to champion his generation of veterans. With a current staff of ten, several of which are recruiters with 15-20 years of experience, Valor has a unique mission of optimizing returning veterans’ transition from the military to the oil-and-gas industry.

Veterans, as high-quality individuals, are accustomed to working in a team on the battlefield—translate well to the oilfield. They’ve focused on safety and understand the need for procedure. They respect chain of command. Both the military and the energy industry have a large number of “boots on the ground” and those individuals need to be trustworthy and responsible.

Yen has found that it is easy to teach someone how to do a job, but difficult, or impossible, to teach character and discipline.

Obvious parallels exist. Many military experiences translate well to roles in health, safety, and environmental work. Enlisted service members make excellent field personnel where technical and mechanical skills are valued and team skills and project management are required. Welders and heavy equipment operators, for example, are always needed. But other applications need skills honed in the military. Officers make high-quality professionals and management team members. Combat arms and special-operations experiences translate into strong leadership and resiliency, valuable characteristics that are hard to develop.

Because the energy industry has such immediate needs, it doesn’t generally offer apprenticeship programs. Here vocational and technical schools, such as San Juan College’s (SJC) School of Energy in Farmington, NM, and Valor’s Vo-Tech Program fill the need. Employers often co-sponsor the education and/or partnerships are can be formed with veteran-advocacy groups.

“Those who serve in our nation’s military find many challenges when they return to civilian life. One of those challenges is often finding the work they need to provide for the families they love,” Randy Pacheco, Dean of SJC’s School of Energy, told me. “We provide programs, degrees, and certifications that can help those soldiers learn skills that will help them obtain a career in the energy industry. These men and women have served not just a nation, but every member of our great nation. Their service and commitment can never be overstated and we, as an industry, should do all we can to do for them. It is the least we can do.”

Ray Long, a Vietnam-era Navy Seabee, became a trailblazer with the vision to match returning Marines with jobs in the energy industry. As HR Director for Integrated Production Services, Inc. (IPS), a subsidiary of Superior Energy Services, Inc., Long, had difficulty in finding quality applicants for the company’s various operations. He pitched senior management on hiring Marines, who were completing their tours of duty and transitioning to civilian life. Initially, due to concerns that potential hires lacked direct oilfield experience, Long’s proposal met with resistance from both senior management and district/area managers, who’d been used to hiring locally. With the argument that these were clearly quality guys who knew how to work on a team, had proven they were eminently trainable and, by definition, would not quit when the work got tough, he convinced them to hire a few Marines.

Long told me: “Similarly aged local hires tend to be high school dropouts—job hoppers who are difficult to motivate. Marines come with a need to be part of a team and succeed.” Long added: “Employee turnover is the singular problem in the oil patch and often exceeds 50 percent. Marine turnover was less than half that of local civilian hires.” Soon, he started getting calls from the district managers, asking: “You got any more of those guys?”

Prior to retirement, Long hired more than 400 Marines before their release from active duty. He recalls that while one may have failed a drug test, many are now, not surprisingly, on their way up to leadership roles in the company.

Apache Corporation actively targets veterans to fill HR needs. In 2014, military veterans made up 12 percent of Apache’s new hires in the U.S. Its career page highlights the veterans and boasts: “When it comes to core values, Apache and the military fit like a well-pressed uniform.” Apache often participates in career days held at military bases near their operations. As result, appropriate personnel have jobs waiting for them when they return to civilian life.

Apache’s Executive VP of Human Resources, Margie Harris, reiterated the military fit: “Apache’s culture is one that respects and admires military service. We find that those we hire with former military experience tend to make very good employees.”

Unfortunately, many returning veterans face a tough headwind in seeking employment: the highly publicized, tragic cases where post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) causes questionable behaviors. These, however, are a small segment of the returning forces as only about 20 percent of those deployed in the Global War on Terror actually engage in direct combat and, Yen reports: “Even amongst combat troops, most don’t have PTSD. They have Post-Traumatic Growth; that is, their experiences evolve them into stronger, more capable people.”

Yen believes that, as more companies see the correlation between a military background and energy industry needs, career opportunities for those who have served honorably and successfully will grow. Valor has an extremely high success rate with its placements—a retention rate of nearly 100 percent.

What a powerful way to thank our veterans for their sacrifice that, in part, kept the necessary fuel flowing. Hire them to make America energy-secure.

(A version of this content was originally published on


Marita Noon 2013 greyThe author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.