Linework grabbed hold of me 30 years ago and never let up. I love helping people and being part of a team. There's nothing like that feeling when you get the lights back on. Just seeing the faces of the people, hearing them clapping and hollering. It's all the motivation I'll ever need.

I started out as a groundman in 1993. After gaining field experience, I was able to get through the four-year apprenticeship program to become a journeyman lineman. I mostly worked in crews alongside my foreman, equipment operator and groundworker.

Over time, people retired or moved to the maintenance side of the shop, creating opportunities for people like me who wanted to stay in the field. I ultimately worked my way up to crew foreman, which I did for 10 years. I also served as a volunteer firefighter around this time. I have now made it to the top of the mountain by becoming a line foreman. I've worked for one company my entire career. To this day, I still don't hesitate to climb up the pole to walk someone new through the safest and best way to do a job, or if there's work to be done up there and everyone else is doing something else. I don't ever ask my crew to do anything I wouldn't do myself. I was recently certified as an emergency responder to ensure I'm ready to act in the event of the unexpected. You can never be too prepared.

The proper equipment is also essential to this work, and for me that has always meant Red Wing boots. I started wearing them at age 13 when working on a neighbor's farm, and I've worn the same style on basically every job ever since. I have one pair I only use for climbing with a lug sole and steel shank that are vital for the support I need when standing long periods of time on a pole. I also have an insulated and waterproof pair I wear in the winter, and another pair that I wear pretty much everywhere else.

I took all three pairs along to one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the southern U.S. in 2005, I was part of a 60-person volunteer crew that was dispatched to Pascagoula, Mississippi to help restore power. When we were still many miles from the Gulf, I noticed brown leaves on the trees 10-15 feet off the ground. I learned that this was due to the salt water from the storm surge. I couldn't believe it came this far inland. We arrived outside Pascagoula after sunset and there wasn't a single light in sight. The National Guard led our convoy through the darkness, and we had to cross the median multiple times to avoid mudslides and sections of road that had washed away. In town, we saw complete destruction. Think of what a tornado does and multiply it by 10.

Buildings were completely gone. Mattresses and possessions littered the roadsides, were stuck up in trees and floated in the bay. Some of us slept in our trucks. Others stayed in a motel without a roof. We put in 16-18 hour days for two weeks in hot, muggy and alligator-infested conditions. And slowly but surely, progress was made. We'd see more lights on around us at every day's end. And the residents couldn't have been more appreciative. I can't tell you how many times we were given food, water and snacks along with words of gratitude and encouragement. One morning, a man stepped out of his vehicle and gave us a long military salute.

I'll never forget any of this for as long as I live. I feel so fortunate that the skills I've built over my career were put to such good use helping people in need. It doesn't get much more satisfying than that.


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