NOV 2015
An Air Force Veteran Explains How Renewables Help the U.S. Military Be More Strategic

This Veteran’s Day, we chat with our own Kelly Bronson — a senior recruiting manager at SunEdison and an active military reservist. In addition to explaining how SunEdison cultivates the next generation of renewable energy leaders, Kelly explains how renewable energy helps the U.S. military branches be more strategic.

Q: So tell us a little bit about your background, Kelly.

A: I live in DC now, but I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and served for ten years in the U.S. Air Force. I’ve worked at companies like Alcoa and Lockheed Martin. When I went to get an MBA, I ended up deciding to join the reserves as well. I’ve been an active reservist for 13 years now.

Q: Did your experiences in the military contribute to your decision to work in renewables at all?

A: No, it didn’t factor in directly. I think renewables are an exciting market, plus I just love cutting edge companies and technologies. I also had an amazing opportunity with SunEdison to build a truly world class recruiting program.

Q: Share a little more about that recruiting program.

A: SunEdison has three different development programs aimed at growing leaders within the company. There’s the Management Leadership Development Program (or “MLDP”), which draws top MBA candidates from across the globe. Participants rotate through five different aspects of the company. Our aim with this one is to cultivate participants to act in a director level role or above. There’s also a similar program finance oriented program just for finance leaders. Finally, there’s the Renewable Energy Leadership Development Program or “RELDP,” which offers training and development primarily for undergraduate candidates.

Q: How competitive is it to get into these programs?

A: Very competitive. For just a handful of slots in these programs each year, we get hundreds of applicants from top-notch institutions like MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

Q: What do you look for in applicants?

A: We look for leadership skills, like for an engineering candidate, we might look to see whether or not she is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and whether or not she had a leadership role there. Other things we look for are the quality of the academic program in which they’re participating and a demonstrated passion for renewables.

Q: Tell us a little more about your military background.

A: In the Air Force, I was a logistics officer, which involved the planning of air transportation and aerial porting. We did special handling, which means making sure that aircraft are loaded correctly and cargo is mixed correctly.

Q: Given that the U.S. military has really started to embrace renewables, can you explain to us why that’s strategic from a logistics perspective?

A: The U.S. military has really moved away from what’s called the “forward staging” of materials, which means they really don’t have to pre-position and store as much equipment anymore. They’re moving toward a more agile model where they don’t have to plan and pay for storage all over the world, often in expensive places. Tanks, bullets, beans, generators — anything you need for a prolonged engagement is heavy and expensive to store. Technology including renewable energy technology is helping us draw down much faster. Solar panels can fold up into boxes and just go with us when we fly. This is a far easier, faster, more cost effective solution.

Q: How can skills developed in the military help with a career in renewables?

A: The renewable energy space finds itself needing a lot of niche skills these days and many, many of the intangible skills developed in military translate to this industry. Veterans of the Air Force and Navy especially have skill sets than can easily lend themselves to some of technical systems within renewable energy as well.

Q: What would you like to see in this space the future? 

A: I’d love to see more vets exploring the space. In some ways, the military is still very consumption focused and I’d love to see more people in the military and especially vets exposed to the renewables industry. I also think that military personnel could be taking fuller advantage of the intangible skills you tend to develop in the military like commitment, determination, and drive.