When the board of Craighead Electric Cooperative gave the greenlight to build a fiber network to upgrade communications and reliability, CEO Brian Duncan knew exactly who would head up the project: a military veteran with the leadership skills and discipline to take it on.

Craighead Electric had hired Jeremiah Sloan as an electrical engineer fresh from the Air Force in 2016, when he and his family wanted to return to rural Arkansas. Sloan was the first hire under the Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country program, NRECA's employment initiative for veterans.

Now Sloan, 31, will lead deployment of the fastest internet service available in the co-op's service territory.

"Jeremiah is an exceptional talent," Duncan says. "It will be a perfect fit."

Sloan, who managed large-scale projects in the Air Force only a few years ago, says he relies on skills he developed in the military as he takes on broadband and fiber-to-the-home for the co-op.

"The military prepares you well to make informed decisions under pressure. That risk-assessment process, that ability to weigh pros and cons and how to move forward, feeds into really any position," he says. "You need organizational skills, a systematic approach to problem-solving, effective communication skills, and the ability to work with others."

Front-line technology at your fingertips also feels normal for the veteran.

"We came into contact with a lot of cutting-edge technologies in our day-to-day duties. You learn not to be intimidated. With vets, new technology plays in their favor," Sloan says. "Fiber-based communication networks are a different technology than what I worked with in the Air Force, but much of the project-management procedures and systems-engineering approach is the same."

The board of the Jonesboro, Arkansas, co-op voted last year to upgrade critical communications infrastructure with fiberoptic cable and deliver broadband through its subsidiary, empower.

Sloan, who earned a master's degree in electrical engineering, says when he joined Craighead, he believed his future was in power system development and he hoped to find a way to benefit his rural neighbors.

"My wife and I grew up in the local area. If we moved back, we wanted to help the local community," Sloan says. "In bringing a quality broadband connection to those who don't have one, it will make a huge impact on their life."