A partnership among veterans groups, the oil industry and a key senator could help soldiers and sailors build careers back home while staying in the fight against terrorism abroad.
The American Petroleum Institute started the Veterans Energy Pipeline with help from Vets4Energy and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in February and aims to steer veterans to jobs in the energy industry that match their military training.
Manchin told The Washington Examiner the program is part of his work to support veterans returning home. Manchin started the Congressional Veterans Jobs Caucus, which has 90 members from both parties, and found it natural to work with industry and vets groups to help them find potentially lucrative work in oil and natural gas.
"There are a lot of jobs in there and, bottom line, these people have skill sets," he said. "We're just trying to match them up, their skill sets with the work that's needed, and we want to keep them locally as much as we can."
The website for the program directs service members to enter their branch of service and experience, and the search shows them jobs for which they would be a good fit. Employers also can go to the site, search for what kind of job they need filled and it will show them military ranks that could fill the position.
About 6 percent of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a rate comparable to the overall jobless rate in coal states such as West Virginia and Kentucky. API President and CEO Jack Gerard said the program is designed to help bring veterans back home into a stable environment by giving them a solid career.
The oil and gas industry is not far away from what Gerard calls "The Great Crew Change." He said about 50 percent of the oil and gas industry's workforce will turn over in the next 10-15 years as workers age, and bringing service members into the fold would provide companies with workers used to hard work.
About 950,000 jobs could open in the oil and gas industry by 2020 and as many as 1.3 million by 2030, according to a study by IHS Global.
The program is a part of a larger push by the oil industry to retrain workers to enter the oil and gas industry, and a major part of that is the 21st Century Energy Workforce Development Jobs Initiative Act that has been proposed in the House and rolled into a larger energy bill. That legislation aims to educate and train individuals from low-income areas for careers in the energy sector.
Gerard said the program could help tackle some of the larger problems veterans face when they come home, such as finding a purpose away from the service, while also helping the economy.
"We think oil and gas energy infrastructure, making the U.S. energy secure, can all be a part of that broader conversation," he said. "We have those opportunities to change some of those [poverty problems]."
The program could put some added pressure on the thousands of out-of-work coal miners in places such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which may look to transition from an energy sector based on coal mining to one based on natural gas.
But that's no problem, said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. Raney said he expects the tough times for the coal industry won't last forever and the energy sector will need as many employees as possible.
"If we can keep the men and women here who have lost their jobs in the coal industry and they can go into a comparable job in the oil and gas industry ... I don't view it as competitive at all," he said.
The partnership is not the only one between veterans and the energy sector.
The Department of Energy announced last week that five military bases will join the solar Ready Vets program that trains veterans and outgoing service members for solar industry jobs. The bases will be in Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Texas and Hawaii.
Retired Army Capt. James McCormick said programs like these will help keep veterans employed and give them a stable career upon which they can build their lives.
McCormick, the programs director for Vets4Energy, a group that promotes national security through energy independence, said landing a career is one of the most important things a serviceman can do upon entering civilian life. The oil and gas industry offers comparable, or often better, salaries than the military does, and that can help them provide for their families while also getting benefits such as health insurance.
And companies are getting some good employees, he said.
"They come to you with discipline, the ability to come to you at the right place at the right time and they're dressed appropriately and they're drug free," he said. "It's just something you can't put a price tag on all the time. Vets bring a lot to the table."
Jobs in the oil and gas industry are regimented, much like the military, and allows them to feel like they're still in the fight against terrorism, McCormick said. He said many veterans know oil money in many cases funds their enemies, and working in the American energy sector takes those funds away from terrorists.
"If we can take apart and kick the legs out from under terrorists and take away a funding source from them, it allows us to stay in the fight and make a difference," he said.
"They know we're out there making a difference, they know we're producing a resource that we don't buy from a foreign country. It's like they're back in the game again."