Co-ops and the Military: A Shared ‘Esprit de Corps’
Both are connected by common values of service and a commitment to communityBy Charlie Bayless
As an Air Force veteran, I was drawn to electric utilities when I transitioned out of the military. At first glance, these appear to be two very different occupations. However, both professions are connected by common overarching values: service and a commitment to community.
The notion of service permeates almost all aspects of the military, which is often referred to as “the service.” During my career, I knew that I was serving my community and not just furthering a corporate agenda. I had a sense of purpose and a knowing that I was helping others, both my fellow soldiers and people I encountered around the world. The military’s commitment to service could be seen in how soldiers carried out their daily duties, supported each other during deployments, and engaged the local community. This service extended to the overseas missions I participated in, through the building of infrastructure in developing countries or conducting joint exercises to help those countries prepare to respond to emergencies.
Service and community are fundamental building blocks upon which electric cooperatives are built.
Hand in hand with service was a commitment to community, which was fundamental to military life. Community support extended past the vast array of services that the government provided to help military families, to a willingness to help one another and their families in any situation. No matter where you were assigned, you always knew there was a network of other military families that would help with a transition to a new base or assist your family during a deployment.
The military’s commitment to service and community are included in a concept known as “esprit de corps.” While many think of this as a gauge of morale, it goes deeper, encompassing a shared culture of customs and goals. These same cultural touchstones of community and service are fundamental building blocks upon which electric cooperatives are built and their employees operate.
At the heart of cooperative service is sacrifice. Many co-op employees work long hours in extreme weather to ensure all members have reliable service. When a storm occurs, electric cooperatives mobilize. Linemen from surrounding communities provide aid and office staff often perform fieldwork in an effort to restore power as quickly as possible. This commitment to provide service to the community often requires cooperative employees to spend weeks away from home, often missing holidays and other special occasions. Much like the military, these employees are committed to a larger calling of service to others.
Cooperatives also play a vital role in the community. For-profit corporations were historically unwilling to provide power or other vital services to rural communities because of low-profit margins. Without locally operated cooperatives, many communities in North Carolina might still lack access to reliable and affordable utility services vital to modern life. The cooperatives’ commitment to community also extends beyond utility infrastructure. Cooperatives often provide funding for fire and EMS services, work to bolster local economic development, help disadvantaged members with energy efficiency upgrades, and sponsor youth and scholarship programs. The goal of sustainable community development is even enshrined as one of the cooperative principles, Concern for Community.
As we celebrate Veterans Day this year on November 11, I look back at my past and current careers, and I appreciate the tie that binds the two together: service to others and developing a strong community.
About the AuthorCharlie Bayless was a captain in the U.S. Air Force and is the incoming general counsel for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives.
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