Service members leaving the military from Fort Bragg may soon get a shortcut into the solar energy industry.
The Department of Energy on Tuesday announced that Fort Bragg would be added to a growing list of Solar Ready Vets training sites.
In partnership with Fayetteville Technical Community College, at least 50 local service members a year will undergo a four- to six-week program that includes classroom work and hands-on training to prepare them for certification to work in solar jobs.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, deputy secretary of energy, made the announcement during a conference call with military leaders, an official from FTCC and others.
In addition to Fort Bragg, Solar Ready Vets sites will open at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
That effectively doubles the size of the program, which began last year with sites at Fort Drum, New York; Fort Carson, Colorado; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Camp Pendleton, California; and Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
Sherwood-Randall also announced the program would now be administered by The Solar Foundation, an independent nonprofit.
In the past year, more than 250 service members have participated in the program.
Sherwood-Randall said the program requires no out-of-pocket costs for service members, installations or solar companies.
The program matches training to the needs of the solar industry, and it can be completed by service members up to four months before they leave the military, she said.
Daniel Feehan, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense (readiness), praised the program, calling it a great opportunity for an easier transition from service.
"We need a military that is both ready to fight and one that is ready for life," Feehan said.
"Everyone who serves in the military eventually takes off the uniform and becomes a civilian," he added, saying the military needs to acknowledge that from "day one."
Fort Bragg and the other installations were chosen based on the number of service members who leave the military from those locations, training capacity and the strength of local solar industries, officials said.
"I'm just excited to be part of this," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert D. LaBrutta, commander of the 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio.
LaBrutta said about 3,500 service members leave the military each year from San Antonio and programs like Solar Ready Vets can help ensure it's a smooth change.
"It's about transitioning our service members that have given so much of themselves," he said.
At Fort Bragg, officials have said nearly 8,000 service members, mostly soldiers, enter the civilian workforce from the installation each year.
Those who participate in the Solar Ready Vets program will find a growing industry looking for a skilled workforce, Sherwood-Randall said.
With the price of solar technologies on the decline, and the overall cost of solar energy expected to be down 75 percent by 2020, she said the industry is growing 12 times faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.
"Clean energy is good for business," she said, noting the industry added more than 115,000 jobs since 2010.
About 8 percent of those jobs are filled by veterans, she said. With more on the way.
"We see this as a major opportunity for our veterans to continue to play a vital role in our future," Sherwood-Randall said.
Fort Bragg's first class will begin May 31, according to David Brand, senior vice president for academic and student services at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
Brand said it is a natural partnership for the college, which already helps operate several other transition programs related to information technology, auto repair, HVAC and other career fields.
"We think that solar will take us to the next level," he said.