e are hoping to be both the model and the catalyst,” says Brian Sales of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Green Veterans Group. As one of the group’s two founders, Sales speaks emphatically about the program that helped him reintegrate into civilian society after 10 years in the U.S. Army Infantry.
Partly a response to challenges faced by veterans post service, the Green Veterans Group’s genesis can be traced back to a brainstorming session between Sales and co-founder Jonathan Burgess. The two met in 2013 while attending the Florida Caribbean Regional Leadership Summit. “We started talking about the things USGBC does as a whole,” recalls Sales. “And I am very passionate about veterans and veterans’ issues, especially reintegration and employment.” As a civilian and long-serving USGBC volunteer, Burgess’s own mission has been to connect veterans with opportunities in the green industry. Though from different backgrounds, the pair bonded over the idea that USGBC could be a vehicle for providing direction, connection, and purpose for returning veterans.
Barely a year later, the idea has taken flight. Sales himself serves as an example of the program’s success. Deployed three times—once to Kosovo and twice for combat tours in Iraq—he returned home to look for a new career path. “As a veteran, it’s really hard to reintegrate back into the civilian sector,” he explains. “Having a job is critical.” During his time in the army, Sales—like many veterans—grew accustomed to structure, discipline, and clear expectations. “All of a sudden, you get out and you are disenfranchised.” Without the army’s regimental rules, Sales felt directionless. “Add the complication of post-traumatic stress disorder, whose symptoms become more pronounced when you enter civilian life…and now you are all alone.” His course of action was to enter a college program for alternative and renewable energy management, which, ultimately, is what connected him to USGBC.
Air Force veteran Edel Travieso experienced those same feelings and sought refuge in the Green Veterans Group. “Being so fresh out of the military and getting back into a group of like-minded individuals with the same passion and drive as I have—that was a learning experience in and of itself,” says Travieso, who ultimately served as advocacy chair for the program. “To be taken in by that group and to be part of something bigger than me…it was an opportunity to do something great.”