| Veterans and the water sector: dedicated to community service
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Veterans and the water sector: dedicated to community service

By Stuart Karasik

Career ZoneAs we express our profound appreciation and respect to military personnel and veterans this Veterans Day for their contributions and sacrifices to ensure our precious rights and freedoms, I am pleased to introduce you to AWWA member Jose Martinez, general manager of the Otay Water District in Southern California and a U.S. Navy veteran.

Jose and I work together on AWWA’s Veterans Workforce Initiative and we are proud of the Association’s efforts to promote water sector career opportunities to active duty, reserve and veteran professionals.

As a U.S. Naval Academy graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, Jose served as an officer on nuclear submarines. After completing his military service, Jose spent five years in the private sector as a project manager. The Otay Water District, located in southeastern San Diego County, recruited him as a utility service manager and he advanced to assistant chief of water operations. In March 2020 he was appointed as the general manager.

As Jose’s career path demonstrates, military experience and training greatly contributed to establishing his successful and rewarding career in the water sector. Many may first wonder how military knowledge and skills can lead to a career in the water industry, but Jose and I agree that military training is easily transferable. If you can fix a broken valve, pump or motor in a nuclear submarine 400 feet below the surface, you can easily do the same in the controlled environment of a pump station.

California legislation passage 2019On average, nearly 30,000 service members separate from the military each year in California. Taking this route from a skilled military position to a career in water prompted Jose to reach out to a broader pool of valuable military job candidates for openings in his organization and other water-related agencies.

To streamline the transition of active duty, reserve and veteran professionals into the water sector, Jose and other water-industry staff have helped pave the way for these job candidates to obtain the necessary certifications and education. Jose, working through Otay and San Diego County Water Authority, spearheaded the California passage of AB 1588 in 2019. This new law allows U.S. veterans to receive credit for their military education, training and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in the state. (Pictured in 2019 from left, Mark Balmert,San Diego Military Advisory Council; Jose Martinez, Otay Water District; Christy Guerin, San Diego County Water Authority; Assemblymember Todd Gloria)

Jose and I reflected on why those with military experience are an excellent fit for careers and trades in the water sector. Below are some, but not all, of the most fundamental reasons we identified:

  • The water sector provides the ability to continue serving the public and directly impact the communities in which they and their friends and family live.
  • Through their military experience, they have developed the respect and ability to comply with regulations, policies and procedures.
  • As a result of the constantly changing people, places and missions within the military, they can adapt to new parameters while maintaining the core function and mission of their job.
  • They have the ability to respond calmly in stressful situations and maintain focus on their mission. Stressful situations can be the norm in the military and common in the water sector.
  • They develop leadership responsibilities early in their careers. Military squad leaders are frequently in their early 20s, and future officers and noncommissioned officers are groomed from their first day of service to lead others.
  • They possess a personal sense of responsibility and duty. The first thing they learn during boot camp is that they alone are responsible for their own actions.
  • There is consistent reinforcement of the importance of teamwork and individual responsibility to mission accomplishment. They are keenly aware of how their individual performance impacts the success of the team.
  • They have good organization skills. Scheduling, planning and workflow are critical activities in the water sector.
  • They possess a variety of cross-functional skills, such as extensive training on computer programs and systems, communicating with others who have different skills to accomplish a task, and coordinating and troubleshooting problems in novel and known conditions.

The water sector can benefit greatly from the value of this talent pool and we encourage you to advance your efforts to recruit and hire professionals with military experience. More information is available on AWWA’s Veterans Workforce resource page.

Stuart Karasik has spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was previously the training program manager for the City of San Diego.