Monday, November 11, 2019

‘Even if you did not serve together, you’re family’ Military members, veterans are integral part of employee population

From our early years through today, we have built a tradition of honoring those who serve our country.

In our downtown Milwaukee Public Service Building, for example, the plaque dedicated to the 662 employees of company predecessor Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co. who served in World War I is still prominently displayed. More than a century later, we have supported Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and Fisher House Wisconsin through our We Energies Foundation.

The memorial tablet dedicated to the 662
Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Co.
employees who served in World War I.
One reason the legacy of honoring America’s service members endures is the number of veterans and military reservists among our employee population. Our hiring efforts target the veteran market to recruit those with specialized skills for careers in power generation and distribution, along with other areas vital to the company — but the energy industry in general seem to naturally attract those with military backgrounds as well.

Christy Schultz, computer systems specialist — IT Services, is one of those employees. She joined the company in 1998 (on the Monday after Independence Day, coincidentally) after serving four years in the U.S. Army and graduating from Waukesha County Technical College on the GI Bill.

“I started on the help desk, thinking this was a good way to break into the IT field after graduating and that I would be here three to five years,” Schultz recalls. “Here I am, 21 years later. Over the years, my job has morphed from the help desk, desktop support, telecom and a number of projects in between.”

Today, as a computer systems specialist, Schultz works in telecom, supporting, installing and troubleshooting the phone systems throughout the company.

“There are a number of veterans working in telecom, three alone on my immediate team,” she says. “The military community is an interesting one — a large family with plenty of squabbles and a whole lot of camaraderie. When you run into a veteran at work, it’s almost like running into an extended family member. You have that ‘thing’ in common. Even if you did not serve together, you’re family.” 

Doing something different

Schultz joined that family when she enlisted at age 16. High school graduation was looming, and she was trying to decide what to do.

“I knew I wanted to do something different, something no one else was going to do,” she explains.

A video of people jumping from airplanes piqued her interest. Although her recruiter explained there were not a lot of job opportunities for women in the Army’s airborne operations, Schultz persisted and became a parachute rigger.

She left in June 1990 for basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, followed by jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“The initial shock of basic training can be intimidating and overwhelming. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I made the right decision. But I went in with the mindset that basic training would be intense, like the movie ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ Basic training wasn’t that extreme, but jump school, now that was intense,” she describes, adding that she was there with members of the Army Infantry, Army Rangers, Special Forces, Marine Recon, Navy SEALs and Delta Force.

“All men, and 17-year-old me,” Schultz says. She turned 18 while she was there.

After jump school, she went to Fort Lee, Virginia, to train as a parachute rigger, and then was deployed to the border of Saudi Arabia and Iraq for the Gulf War. “Desert Storm was our graduation present,” jokes Schultz, who was sent in support of the 18th Airborne Corps.

She returned to the U.S. after three months and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, packing personnel and cargo parachutes, rigging heavy drop equipment, and issuing parachutes for airborne operations. During her time in the 82nd, she married and had a son. When her four-year term was up, she opted to return to Wisconsin rather than re-enlist. The deployment window required with her unit was a driving factor. 

Schultz with two members of her unit, gearing up for a 12-mile road march. 
“We would get a call and have to be on base, checked in, within an hour of that call. Sometimes we could be gone for hours; other times for days if not weeks,” she said. “Doing that while single or married is one thing, but with a child it’s different.”

Skills that led to a career

While her degree as a microcomputer specialist and the opportunity for a stable job led her to the We Energies IT department 21 years ago, the experience gleaned from the military has affected Schultz’s role within the company.

“Many traits that you pick up in the military come into play here at work. Teamwork, efficiency and reliability are a few that come to mind. We work together more effectively if we can rely on each other and have a plan,” she says.

Those traits are reasons Schultz — a member of Tanner Paull American Legion Post 120 and of the company’s Military Service Members Association business resource group — sees We Energies focusing on veteran recruitment. “I think it’s great that We Energies encourages veterans to apply. Veterans tend to have a strong work ethic and sense of duty.”

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