The Renewable Fuels Association announced the launch of Veterans for Renewable Fuels, a new initiative designed specifically for military veterans and immediate family members working in the U.S. ethanol industry. The purpose of the VRF is to recognize and celebrate the contributions of military veterans in the industry and provide them with opportunities to network and support one another in their careers and personal lives.
According to the Department of Energy, nearly one out of every six workers in the ethanol industry is a veteran—three times the rate of the national labor force. The concentration of vets in the ethanol industry is higher than any other segment of the energy industry, according to DOE.
In conjunction with today’s launch of VRF, the group’s co-chairs sent a letter to President Joe Biden, thanking him for his commitment to domestic bioenergy, highlighting the role of veterans in the industry, and calling on the administration to “fully embrace the national security benefits of homegrown renewable fuels like ethanol.” VRF is co-chaired by RFA board members Jeff Oestmann, a former U.S. Marine, and Tony Leiding, a U.S. Army veteran.
VRF will serve as an informational resource for former members of the armed services working in the ethanol industry, while also providing them an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with policymakers, media, the general public and other audiences. The group will also sponsor networking opportunities for members, including a kickoff event (a swift boat naval history tour) in conjunction with the 2024 National Ethanol Conference in San Diego.
“We are extremely proud to unveil the VRF initiative just in time for Veterans Day,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper, who served on active duty as an Army captain specializing in bulk petroleum supply and logistics. “When women and men in uniform leave the military and start searching for jobs, they want more than a paycheck. They’re looking for rewarding work and they want to join a team of dedicated professionals focused on a common mission. Many veterans have found just what they’re looking for in the ethanol industry, and we are truly honored to have them in our midst.”
VRF will be managed by two other RFA staffers with military ties. Justin Schultz, RFA’s Director of Environment, Health and Safety, will be the staff lead on the project, while Robert White, RFA’s Senior VP of Industry Relations and Market Development, will be an advisor. Schultz is a decorated combat veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He continues to serve in the Iowa Army National Guard as an Infantry field-grade officer, with more than 23 years of service.
“As a combat veteran, I have found the ethanol industry to be a place where I can truly thrive,” Schultz said. “I can continue serving my country and state in the Iowa Army National Guard, but at the same time answer our nation’s call for real solutions to national defense and climate needs. Ethanol is more than just a renewable fuel, it’s a community and safe haven for our brothers and sisters in arms.”
White served seven years on active duty in the Army, culminating with three years at the U.S. embassy in Warsaw where he assisted the Polish military with accomplishing the requirements of NATO membership. He later served two years in the Kansas Army National Guard and two more in the Army Reserve.
“The ethanol industry remains a natural landing spot for veterans from all branches of our nation’s military due to its rural backbone and common core values,” White said. “I can personally attest to the similarities of the military and our great industry. I am excited for the launch of VRF and I am confident that it will serve as another extension of military service and family for decades to come.”