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CEC’s Three Military Veterans: Great Ambassadors for Both Walks of Life

What does nuclear reactor water chemistry have in common with half-track hauling and aircraft carrier flight decks?

Each one played a major part in the career of a military veteran who is employed by Community Electric Cooperative. As Veterans Day approaches, Flynn Gladden, Glen Presson and Mitch Simmons agree that not only did their years in the military help them grow as men while serving their country, it positioned them even today to help the Cooperative achieve success.

“My service in the Marine Corps validated the value of hard work,” says Presson, CEC Manager of Operations. Presson joined CEC in 1989 after a four-year tour of duty that took him to countries as far away as Norway and South Korea.

“I was not a good student in high school, but I always had a good work ethic,” Presson says. “I learned that if you worked hard, you could get recognized, and that stuck with me.”

Gladden is a Navy veteran who joined CEC two years ago. He is an engineering technician on track to graduate later this year from Old Dominion University with a degree in electrical engineering. He feels the work ethic that permeates the Cooperative’s ranks is uncommon among job settings.

“Veterans are some of the hardest workers, but here at Community, actually everybody works hard. That helps us [veterans] fit in,” Gladden says. “I’ve never worked anywhere that had as high a percentage of people who wanted to be there and to do a good job. That’s quite a unique experience in the workforce these days, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Simmons was also in the Navy, where he served aboard two aircraft carriers in the 1980s as a plane captain, ensuring the safety of pilots and their planes upon launch and recovery. He joined the Cooperative five years ago as Manager of Information Technology after a career with high-tech companies in Arkansas and other states.

His time in the military instilled in him an appreciation for discipline and teamwork.

All three men identify teamwork as an invaluable learning experience from their military service.

“A lot of the job is responsibility and teamwork, and that’s the part I really enjoyed,” Simmons says, “The teamwork, the safety, standing left to right, in front and behind, knowing we have each other’s back.”

Despite the differences in the three men’s ages and backgrounds — Simmons grew up in Oklahoma, Gladden in South Carolina and Presson in Suffolk — there’s a bit of a common strand to their decisions to enlist in the military: a desire to chart a more purposeful course in life and to make some money while doing so.

“The military was pretty much where I grew up from childhood to adulthood,” Simmons says. While he originally sought to be an aviation electronics technician, no slots were available, but he had a rating that enabled him to be the carrier’s plane captain. Eventually he landed in the electronics shop but missed being a plane captain. He ended his career in the Navy as the supervisor of the line shack (plane captains). He earned his E5 rating as an Aviation Electronic Technician Second Class Petty Officer, his love for the Navy and his brothers and sisters have lasted over 40 years.

“You worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and you constantly had your head on a swivel. You had 60 aircraft and six types of propellers, some with 7-foot air intakes and some with 20-foot intakes,” Simmons says. “If there was a problem, you fixed it, because you had to ask yourself, ‘Is my aircraft and my pilot coming back safely?’ It made me more aware of what I was doing and my surroundings, and that’s one of the things you learn about here at the Cooperative is safety and situational awareness.”

Gladden, the youngest of the three, still marvels at the responsibility he had maintaining his carrier’s nuclear reactor as a 19-year-old. He was a machinist’s mate nuclear and an engineering lab technician responsible for radiation control and the reactor’s water chemistry.

“One of the big things I learned is not to be afraid of new stuff. I learned about being able to adapt to whatever circumstances you’re put in and how to make the best of it. I was a significantly more mature person when I got out than when I went in — and I was significantly farther ahead financially than my buddies who were taking out loans to go to college and going into debt.”

The men agree that people often fail to recognize that there are opportunities available to them in the military no matter who they are and what their skill sets may be. Given his mechanical aptitude, Presson was a vehicle recovery specialist who, no matter what or where the deployment, was always on call to haul light amphibious and motor pool vehicles.

“That whole experience put me on the right path in life,” he says. “I was a wild and crazy teenager, and I don’t know where I’d have been if I hadn’t made the decision to enlist. You come to realize that you’re serving your country and then, too, you’re getting fed, getting shelter. At least for a time while you’re trying to figure things out, you’re given something to do and getting paid for it. It’s a good experience.”

Community Electric President and CEO Steven Harmon says the Cooperative is honored to have Gladden, Presson and Simmons — as well as veterans who preceded them — among its team members.

“Each of these men is a tremendous ambassador for Community Electric and, by the examples they set, for the value and benefits of military service. I wish each and every one of our members could have the chance to meet and speak with them,” Harmon says. “They bring a great perspective to the mission we pursue and to the responsibilities we have as members of the community at large. They are highly dedicated and hardworking professionals whom we are proud to have as friends and colleagues.”