Stories of service
Electric cooperatives across Ohio join the nation this month in honoring veterans of the U.S. armed forces — America’s courageous protectors, defenders, and heroes. Not only do the co-ops acknowledge veterans’ dedication to our country, but we are truly grateful for the unique strengths and noble characteristics they bring to the co-op family.
We recognize all of our veteran-employees, and here, we talk to a few of them.
Tree trimmer foreman
Logan County Electric Cooperative, Bellefontaine
Tony Willis knew he was going to join the military — and specifically, the U.S. Marine Corps — when he was just 12 years old.
“My two grandfathers both fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II,” Willis says. “They were both Marines but didn’t know each other. They only realized the connection when my parents got married.”
Both grandpas had tact and discipline — qualities they passed on to Tony. Wanting to follow in their footsteps, he says, he joined the Marines via an early program while still in high school. He served 10 years, based in North Carolina and California.
While at Camp Lejeune, he served in the Fleet Marine Force. “We were part of ‘the float’ with the U.S. Navy,” he says. “I’ve been in 24 countries, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, South America to North Africa. You never knew what to expect, but it was always exciting.”
Many of the skills Willis honed in the military are valuable today. “The things I carry into my job? My tact and having my bearings. My ability to communicate and not worry about the little stuff, and being really ready to work when at work. That’s important.”
He says he loves being part of the community served by the co-op. “On the co-op line, we try to talk with everyone before we cut their trees,” he says.
“We talk with them, not to them. We build relationships, and they know we’ll take care of them.”
Manager of safety and compliance
Butler Rural Electric Cooperative, Oxford
Adam Osborn spends his days making sure everyone at Butler REC is safe and secure.
Osborn is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He monitors safety, conducts field audits with linemen, and makes sure all work areas at Butler REC comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and safety procedures. “The job is a great fit,” he says. “I take it real seriously, so everyone can go home safely at the end of the day.”
Osborn, a native of Webster, Indiana, served in the Air Force from 2003 until 2007. He responded to emergencies alongside EMTs, fought wildfires, and served in Baghdad, Iraq.
Along with an eye to safety, he says the Air Force instilled skills — time management, attention to detail, organization — that he uses daily and that created a natural path to Butler REC. “I still have that drive for safety,” he says. “My background in hazmat and emergency response helped qualify me for this job.”
As part of that job, he teaches CPR and first aid to all 11 linemen and 37 office employees at Butler. He’s frequently on the phone answering compliance questions and explaining safety issues, and he travels to local schools to provide safety demonstrations — showing, for example, what can happen if a balloon or kite touches a power line.
“I enjoy coming to work every day; I’m very grateful,” Osborn says. “Butler feels like family — everyone meshes together and works well together.”
Class A lineman
Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative, Millersburg
Steve James grew up in Wayne County and now works around that same rural area as a lineman for the co-op. But in between? Let’s just say he wandered a little way from home.
James served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the 1980s. He was part of “Operation Urgent Fury,” the U.S.-led invasion and liberation of the Caribbean island of Grenada. He also served in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon.
Following his service, James was happy to return to the familiar hills of eastern Ohio, where he’s been a lineman for 13 years. The skills and character he built with the Marines have served him well. “I pretty much go by the idea that you do what’s needed to get a job done,” he says. “In the Marine Corps, whatever the orders were, you found a way to do it.”
Perhaps the most treasured part of his job is his involvement in the Holmes-Wayne Community Honor Trips — taking the area’s WWII, Korea, and Vietnam veterans to visit the Washington, D.C., memorials that honor their service.
“The part I really enjoy is talking with the veterans and learning about their experiences,” he says. “I want to hear their stories — ask what they did and just listen. A lot of times they hold that in, but I want to see them open up. Being I’m a little older vet, I think they tend to talk to me. They are the real deal.”
The Frontier Power Company, Coshocton
Scott Dunn says his experience stationed with U.S. Marines security forces in remote areas of the Philippines in the late 1980s helped prepare him for a recent humanitarian trip he took with other Ohio co-op employees to isolated villages in Guatemala. “My military career helped me understand that impoverished country,” says Dunn, who was among a group of co-op workers who spent three weeks in Central America with Project Ohio.
“These were very, very remote villages,” he says. “We installed electric power where they’ve never had electricity. We wired 140 ‘houses’ that were dirt-floor huts. We put lights in. We added electricity to the school.”
They even brought along shoes for the kids, who enjoyed the chance to play a little soccer with the co-op workers. The experience was undeniably rewarding. The kids, he says, “well, they were the best part of it.”
Dunn served in the Marines for eight years. He spent seven months on the USS Saipan, an amphibious assault ship that sailed from Iceland and Norway to the Mediterranean. After he left the service, Dunn went to school to study law enforcement and later joined Frontier Power.
His military background continues to play a role. “I brought a lot with me: patience and discipline and the ability to deal with a whole lot of things at once,” he says. “You don’t get too upset over spilled milk, as they say. There’s a lot more to life. I just love being outside and getting people’s lights back on.”