Fmr. 1st LT Stephanie Kline

SK (1)

My path to the military was very different from most of my fellow servicemembers. I headed to graduate school almost immediately after college and although my research focused on biodiversity encroachment impacts on military training ranges, donning a uniform never crossed my mind. Even when I started my first job supporting the Department of Defense’s efforts to preserve working lands—like farms, forests, and ranches—serving didn’t interest me.

Then one day, after giving my 200th stakeholder presentation on the importance of compatible land use to the “warfighter,” it hit me. I had no idea what “warfighter” meant outside of an academic context. For the first time, I noticed the blaring gap in my expertise. So I did what any good researcher would do in that situation: I joined the Marine Corps. It was a vastly different education in many ways, and I gained firsthand insight into the tremendous energy challenges facing Marines.

While stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, I assisted with one of the base’s first locally-produced biofuels purchases. It was a small amount, but made a statement that the Marine Corps wanted to be a proactive energy consumer. The cost of our dependence on fossil fuels, measured in dollars and lives lost, was going up. Military leadership was looking for ways to mitigate growing energy bills and minimize fuel convoy-related casualties. It was the perfect opportunity for our country to work together to reduce our financial burden and save lives.

Unfortunately, that opportunity went unnoticed in several places. The need for better informed decision makers outside of the military was clear. After transitioning out of the Marine Corps, I stayed in North Carolina to work on regional energy policy and educate stakeholders on the military’s many energy challenges.

I joined Operation Free to leverage a strong, trusted network of veterans and policy professionals in order to articulate the national security and economic benefits of clean energy throughout the southeast. Now that I’m working to build a strong, national employment pipeline of veterans into the solar industry, my connection to Operation Free is more important than ever.

Views expressed are her own. 

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