There is no stronger leader than one who serves.
On Nov. 5, Alabama Power and members of the Council on Culture and Inclusion honored the company’s military veterans at Corporate Headquarters in Birmingham. Veterans attending represented the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard and Reserves.
In welcoming the audience, Jeff Peoples, senior vice president of Employee Services and Labor Relations and a CCI member, said the company is pleased to honor employees who served or are serving, and to uphold spouses who maintain the homefront while loved ones serve their country.
The CCI was formed in January to further cultivate a culture that leverages the talents and experiences employees from diverse backgrounds bring to the company, including those of employees who serve in the military.
“Our country and our company are better for what you’ve done,” Peoples said. “This makes me almost emotional when I think about the discipline, the character and the integrity sitting in this room.”
Peoples noted that military members in attendance, including guest speaker Wendell McLain, represented nearly 700 years of military service.
Retired Brig. Gen. McLain, who served 35 years in the Army, shared lessons learned during military duty. McLain was drafted into the Army in 1968, serving as a paratrooper, among other positions. He also enjoyed a 38-year career at Alabama Power, working in line construction and construction services in Southern and Eastern divisions until his retirement from a position at Corporate Headquarters.
“The people of Alabama Power are good people,” said McLain, who served in the Army National Guard for another four years after he left the company. “When you retire, you miss all these friends.”
Though he’s been retired from the military for nearly 10 years, McLain said, “There’s not one day that goes by that I don’t think about our soldiers who are in harm’s way.”
Today across the company, veterans make up about 15 percent of the workforce. About one out of seven employees serves in the military. McLain said the military provides excellent training, teaching the importance of dedication and commitment. He said serving in the military polishes one’s leadership skills and abilities to work with others.
“Alabama Power gets a bargain when they hire veterans with leadership experience,” McLain said. “I was a squad leader with 10 soldiers at 20 years old. … Where else can you get that kind of leadership experience?
“The Army National Guard and Reserve are so important to our military today,” he said.
McLain thanked veterans for their service, noting that many people are not only juggling family life but also their jobs. It is in the arena of supporting its service people that Alabama Power proves its commitment to strengthening the military, he said. During his Army tenure, McLain said that he saw many people give up service to their country because of a fear of losing their job.
“You work for a great company,” McLain said. “Alabama Power cares about you and your family. They will take special care of you when you deploy. We don’t want our airmen, soldiers and Marines to have to worry about their homes and jobs while they are in harm’s way.
“This great nation would not be where it is today without your service,” he said.
Recruiting Operations Consultant and Army veteran Jeremy Foshee said that one’s military service is never forgotten.
“You never lose it; it never goes away,” said Foshee, whose father served in the Vietnam War and whose grandfather was a WWII combat veteran. “We work for a great company that values the military and its veterans.”
Foshee said Alabama Power and Southern Company have a strong commitment to hiring veterans: Since 2015, Southern Company has hired 745 veterans, and more than 150 veterans have joined the company this year.
For 12 years in a row, Southern Company has been named the top electric utility employer of veterans. Southern Company is recognized as one of the country’s top 50 military employers.
Otis Jones, who served in the Navy from 1989 to 1997, followed with a two-year stint in the Army National Guard, was glad to attend the veterans program.
“I really enjoyed it. The whole program was fantastic,” said Otis, Transformer Shop mechanic, Substations – General Shops, at the General Services Complex in Varnons. “It made me feel appreciated that someone thought about us enough to plan this and honor everyone. Having the company take the time to honor us in this way was very special.”
Metro South Office Manager Edna Felton said many companies support veterans, but “our company takes it to another level.”
“I think the program stood out, having a veteran, Brigadier General McLain, who was an employee who stressed strong similarities between our company and the military, particularly in leadership and high ethical values,” said Felton, who served in the Army Reserve from 1989 to 1997. “I wasn’t aware of the strong recruitment of veterans, and that stood out to me. There are strong ties between the military and our company values.”
At only 17 and in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Felton – like McLain – served as a squad leader. She completed advanced training in heavy equipment transportation at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
At 18 years old, she was called to duty in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, serving in a motor transport company that hauled disabled tanks.
“I really appreciated that our company did this for us,” Felton said. “They recognized all of the employees currently serving or that have served in the military branches individually. It meant a lot.”
Gadsden Lineman Dan Freeman, who has been deployed to Afghanistan twice during his 14 years in the Alabama National Guard, said that the program made him feel valued for his military service.
“I feel that I work for a company that appreciates me for what I do outside of work,” said Freeman, an Alabama Power employee for 10 years.
Attending the program made Operating Services Analyst Marcus Farmer feel highly valued for his six years of Navy service. Though the military, Farmer learned valuable electronic and electrical skills that helped him gain employment in the electric-utility industry. Most importantly, he learned to deal with and value people.
“Today’s program was just amazing,” said Farmer, who worked for five years at Plant Gorgas as an Electrical and Instrumentation team leader before transferring to Southern Company Services.
“I felt honored. It just feels good to be appreciated in this way,” Farmer said. “I joined the military young, 18 years old, in the United States Navy. I just wanted to see the world. but looking back on it now — my service time — I didn’t realize how important it was and how much of an honor it was for me to serve my country that way, and today brought that home to me.”
The company has planned several other events to honor its veterans. Plant Gorgas will salute its servicemen and servicewomen during a lunch program on Nov. 7, and Plant Gaston will honor its veterans on Nov. 8.
Western Division Vice President Mark Crews annually recognizes employees’ military service, providing a small gift for their dedication and sacrifice. Supervisors present the token of appreciation to veterans in their work groups during safety meetings or other gatherings before Veterans Day.
Birmingham pulls out all the stops for its Veterans Day celebrations, beginning Nov. 11 with a luncheon and dinner, culminating on Nov. 12 with one of the nation’s largest parades. Alabama Power employees have assisted in the parade for several years.