Carrie Goldstein had never fired a bullet in her life. She wasn’t super athletic. She was just a skinny, small-town teenager who wanted to make a difference.
So when her parents declined to give her permission to join the military at 17, Goldstein signed up herself with the U.S. Army Reserves shortly after her 18th birthday.
Her paperwork went through on Sept. 10, 2001, a day before terrorists struck.
“I really didn’t want to go straight into college, and I also didn’t want to stick around and work in a factory. But I wanted to make a difference somewhere,” said Goldstein, who grew up on Clay Electric Cooperative lines in Flora, Illinois, and now serves as the co-op’s bookkeeper.
“I wanted to be part of the military. Once I made that decision, nothing was holding me back. I wanted something my parents could be proud of.”
Goldstein thrived in the Army. At 21, she made NCO sergeant, a rank that usually takes five years to earn.
At Clay Electric, she sees her military experience as an asset. “To work together for a common goal—that’s the main definition of a co-op and the main definition of the military, so it’s a perfect fit,” she said.
NRECA’s veteran hiring initiative, Serve Our Co-ops, Serve Our Country, aims to reach former military personnel like Goldstein to let them know about careers in rural communities at electric co-ops. Ed VanHoose, Clay Electric’s general manager, is one of several co-op leaders helping to spread the word.
For VanHoose, Goldstein’s military training, related job experience and unmatched enthusiasm put her above dozens of applicants. She was hired in April.
“The defining factor for hiring Carrie is she had everything I was looking for, plus the military experience. That spoke volumes to me about her character,” said VanHoose, a Navy reservist who recalled growing up around military folks in Oklahoma.
“She served her country on the front lines, and now she serves as the front line for the co-op. When the phone rings, she picks up. When someone’s at the counter or drive-thru, she’s quick to help. That’s not specific to her job in bookkeeping. That’s her providing service to members. She does whatever it takes to get the job done.”
For Goldstein, it’s all about the co-op teamwork akin to what she relished about the military.
“Whenever I come here, I feel like I can make a difference. And when leave, I feel like I’ve done something important and productive,” she said.
In the Army, Goldstein took on multiple duties outside her assignments as an administrative specialist in the 993rd Postal Company, which, attached to the First Calvary Division in Fort Hood, deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Under Operation Enduring Freedom, her unit took convoy missions to remote sites and built a post office in Camp Victory in North Baghdad, where Goldstein pursued additional military occupation specialties.
She volunteered for supply work, then as a small arms mechanic for M16s, M4s and the M249 SAW, a light machine gun. She also became a unit prevention leader, which involved rousing soldiers for random drug tests, a substance-abuse-prevention function.
To achieve the rank of sergeant, Goldstein faced the Army Promotion Board of superior officers, who grilled her on her tactical and technical proficiency. Later, her company voted to send her before the NCO of the Year Board.
“I wanted to learn everything. I didn’t get sleep very much,” she said. “Because I asked for so many duties, I was promoted.”
Goldstein returned to the U.S. and the Army Reserves in 2005. She started a family and received an honorable discharge as an E6 staff sergeant in 2009.
Back in her hometown, she struggled to find employment. When she divorced, her family needed more security than her job provided at the time. That’s when she saw the Clay Electric bookkeeper opening.
“I thank Ed for giving me a chance,” she said. “I think that a lot of bosses might be a little intimidated by a vet or solider. We’re not out there looking to take charge, but to take what we have and make it a better place.
“Everybody cares about the job they do, cares about the members and wants to do the best they can for everyone.”
Now Goldstein marvels at her decision to join the military and her path home.
“It was a tough decision. I had never run a mile in my life, and I had never shot a gun in my life. I wanted to challenge myself. I am who I am today because of the Army. I will be forever proud of myself for being so young and realizing it was the best avenue for me,” she said.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.