By Tony Khing
Every day at PG&E is Veteran’s Day. Since the early 1900s, the company has worked to hire, train and retrain veterans while helping them develop careers. Like the armed forces, many jobs at PG&E require disciplined work practices and provide the opportunity to serve others.
Last month, PG&E enlisted the services of 4,300 employees — some of them veterans — to support the company’s mission of restoring service to customers during Northern California wildfires. Two of these veterans recently graduated from the company’s PowerPathway program.
Miles Barretta and George Riley, both former U.S. Army sergeants and graduates of the first cohort for active-duty service members, participated in last year’s training session at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Seattle. Both were hired by PG&E shortly after leaving the Army last summer. Barretta and Riley experienced their share of tense situations in the service. When the call came to support PG&E’s efforts at the Atlas fire in Napa, they knew what to do.
“The military helped me to respond in stressful situations,” said Barretta, a gas construction supervisor in Napa. “My training helped me to be calm under pressure. I went through my checklists every day and saw what my guys needed. I also checked on equipment and made sure we had everything to do our job.”
“A lot of these people lost their homes,” said Riley, who’s a traffic control supervisor for Gas Operations in San Jose for the Central Coast Region. “I was glad we were able to come out there and support in any way we could to return them to a sense of normalcy.”
Barretta and his crews couldn’t work right away. They had to wait a few days for CAL FIRE to allow them into the affected areas. Once they got access, they were busy cutting off gas service to mains in burned down houses.
Besides supervising the work, Barretta never forgot about the welfare of his crew. Three members were evacuated from their homes. “It’s not about me. It was about helping them (his crew) out,” he said. “They were my main priority.”
Riley’s primary focus was to provide traffic control and help set up the Napa basecamp. Being at the basecamp reminded Riley of serving in the Army. “It put me in the mode of, ‘Hey, we’re here to do a job and support, communicate with the lines of business and see where they need us,’” he said. “It might not be for traffic, but we were there to support in any way possible.”
Barretta and Riley spent two weeks assisting in PG&E’s efforts. Barretta lives near Napa in American Canyon, so he went home at night to his family. Riley did get to return to his home in Tracy and his family for a few days during his tour with the wildfires.
And Barretta and Riley did connect at a supervisor’s meeting. They shared their PG&E experiences, but couldn’t talk for long. “We were excited to see each other,” said Barretta. “It was good to see a friendly face.”
Both of them were honored to be part of the restoration efforts.
“I was extremely sad to see the devastation,” said Barretta, a native of Modesto. “But I feel fortunate I was able to help out my community, the places we serve and our customers. It was a sense of pride.”
“PG&E came in and did what they had to do effectively. The leadership had everyone coordinated so the work went smoothly. That stood out to me,” said Riley. “That was a proud moment for me.”
The company’s PowerPathway program has been a solid launching pad for veterans to be introduced to the energy industry. Since the program began nine years ago, more than half of its graduates – 475 out of 850 – have been military veterans.
“It provided me an opportunity to have a job after the military to support me and my family,” said Barretta. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”
“I’d definitely recommend going through the PowerPathway program. It’s been an amazing experience working here at PG&E,” said Riley. “You won’t regret it. Miles doesn’t and neither do I.”