Veterans in Solar

Frank Sandoval, veteran and SolarCity employee, works with a customer while on the job.

Frank Sandoval, a U.S. Army infantry sniper, returned from the front lines with a virtual lifetime of stories, some to tell, others to forget.

Frank served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere for 12 years. “Grunts and infantrymen, snipers, shooters, we’re notorious for being one thing,” he says, “the bad boys.”

But life back home presented a challenge Frank wasn’t prepared for. He is exceedingly proud of his service, which included peacekeeping missions that saved lives and restored countries torn apart by civil war. But, unable to find a job and pay his bills as a civilian, “no longer the pride of the United States,” he felt lost and utterly worthless.

“That feeling,” Frank says, “is worse than combat.”

Today, all that’s changed. Frank serves as a senior inspections coordinator for SolarCity, where he’s had four promotions in four years and a sense of purpose and pride he never anticipated. He’d always thought renewable energy was for “tree-hugging hippies,” but now serving planet Earth is his passion. (Click here for a brief video of Frank on and off the job.)

“I’m all about solar,” he says.

Another surprise Frank encountered shortly after coming on board: The striking similarities between military culture and life with SolarCity, which counts almost 900 veterans among its ranks. That number and our work installing solar on military housing helped make Frank’s transition feel like “going from one army to another.” But it was more than that, he says, pointing to SolarCity’s resolute emphasis on teamwork. As an example, every panel installer has a partner who might tell his buddy to take a break if it appears he’s had too much sun.

“At SolarCity we have a saying: One Team, One Dream,” Frank says. “That’s identical to how we operate in the military, we look out for each other.”

The ability to rapidly adapt to constant change is another cultural similarity Frank describes. “You’ve got surprises all the time in military: new techniques, different weapons, different scopes. It’s no different at SolarCity, which is ever changing. When I started, it might take a week and a half to install a typical five-kilowatt system on a home. Now the guys can knock out two of those in a day. Any suggestion is welcome, because we’re constantly innovating, constantly changing.”

Copy that, says fellow veteran Jeff Gill, a SolarCity channel account manager who oversees a large sales staff. Gill was a helicopter rescue swimmer whose roles ranged from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which he did in the Philippines during Typhoon Haiyan, to door gunner for an anti-surface warfare mission in the Strait of Hormuz.

“In the military, we cannot perform our missions without looking out for the well being of our brothers and sisters in arms,” he says.

Jeff sees many similarities through the prism of his aviation training. “In an aircraft, unplanned conditions always arise,” he says, also citing the frequent need to make split-second decisions. “Then there’s leadership. Everyone has a leadership role to play in the military and at SolarCity.”

Jeff also cites Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo and a prominent teacher during Japan’s Meiji period. “He has a famous maxim that describes the essential logic which animates both SolarCity and the military: ‘Maximum efficiency, mutual benefit.’ Maximum efficiency represents a tireless dedication to improvement, a drive towards an ideal that we may never achieve. In the military maybe maximum efficiency stands for a world without war. At SolarCity, it may mean a world without the need for fossil fuel.”

Nearly one in 10 solar industry employees is a veteran. It’s impossible to overstate how proud SolarCity is to have so many among our ranks. We’re deeply honored that the feeling can go both ways.

“I put on my green SolarCity shirt,” Frank says, “and I have as much pride as wearing my camouflage. This job completely saved my life.”

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