11/02/2012 05:00 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

For Returning Tennessee Veterans, Clean Energy Jobs Are a Perfect Fit

It just got a little bit easier for veterans returning to western Tennessee to find a good job.

And one of the main reasons is the work of my friend, retired Marine Lt. Gen. John "Glad" Castellaw.

While Tennessee might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of clean energy, Gen. Castellaw sees opportunity in his home state. He has led the effort to create a program that helps unemployed military veterans find jobs, builds on the Volunteer State's rich agriculture base, and shows how our country can transition to a clean energy economy.

This new program is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two Tennessee non-profit groups -- the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Crockett Policy Institute.

Under the partnership, the groups will create a network of support organizations, a comprehensive jobs database and new outreach programs, all designed to put veterans back to work in energy sector jobs.

The USDA awarded a $30,000 grant to the two non-profits to establish the programs.

A farmer and a 30-year-plus veteran of the Marine Corps, Gen. Castellaw, founder of the Crockett Policy Institute, knows how tough it can be for young veterans to find work.

He also understands how important clean energy is to our economy, our national security and our environment. And he understands, too, how the military's pioneering of advanced biofuels and other clean energy sources can drive growth in the private sector.

As Gen. Castellaw put it in a recent op-ed in the Chattanooga Times:

"Like other innovations that have their roots in the military, DOD's push into biofuels is spurring economic activity in the private sector. It's spawning a new breed of American entrepreneurs who are creating jobs, forming companies and moving our country forward."

The program Gen. Castellaw and his partners are building in Tennessee makes perfect sense for the state's economy and its veterans.

Clean energy is one of the fastest-growing sectors in America. Every month, it adds thousands of new jobs in everything from the manufacturing of advanced batteries to generating solar power. As the clean energy economy grows, so too does the demand for skilled workers.

This demand can be filled by returning veterans who join the civilian workforce already possessing the knowledge, skills and experience that make them ideally suited to work in the clean energy sector. As an early adopter of clean energy, the military has trained thousands of service members in advanced technologies.

Sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen and women have developed, built and maintained everything from solar panels that power Army bases to jets and ships that run on sustainable domestic biofuels. Experience with these types of clean technologies makes veterans ideal candidates for work in this field.

The new Tennessee program will help connect these well-trained veterans with employers who need them.

Companies like Memphis-based Federal Express, for instance, are transitioning to vehicles - both airplanes and trucks -- that will run at least partly on biofuels and other clean, renewable fuels. Who better to help service those jets and automobiles than military veterans who already have experience with such vehicles?

A shift toward advanced biofuels could also help Tennessee's agricultural community. More biofuels means more markets for Tennessee farmers who can grow non-food crops that can be converted to advanced energy. Even waste material from food crops can be used in this process.

Clean energy is good for Tennessee's veterans, farmers, industries and for the state's economy as a whole. But this opportunity is not limited to one region. It can play out just as well in other parts of the country. In fact, anyone who's looking for a career in an industry that builds the local economy while also supporting national security should look to the clean energy sector.

On clean energy, Tennessee is following the words of native son Davey Crockett: "Be sure you are right, and then go ahead." We should all do the same.