I am an electrical line worker. There are thousands of us across our Commonwealth. You probably don’t see us, and if you do, we’re likely just a person up on a pole that caught the attention of your kid. But we keep the lights on for families. We make the refrigerators run that keep your dad’s medicine working. We turn on the computers that let Virginia small businesses operate. We ensure hospitals are open and schools’ lights are on. We power the Commonwealth and keep it running.
Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives employ nearly 2,000 of us, creating opportunities for a fulfilling career with good-paying jobs that help us support our families. When I began as a line worker, I had no idea what this work would hold. I couldn’t have anticipated the storms I’d spend restoring power for all those who desperately needed it. I couldn’t have expected the long days and nights, and the family sacrifices I would have to make for my job, but more than that, I couldn’t have possibly imagined the pride I’d feel and the incredible family of line workers that I’d become a part of.
That line worker community will be on full display this weekend when thousands of line workers from across the country, their families, and many of Virginia’s elected officials will gather for Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives’ 19th annual Gaff-N-Go Lineworkers’ Rodeo. This national competition allows our families, and our communities, to see firsthand what line workers do every day — what we do to keep the lights on. This year, line workers from seven states — including teams from as far away as California – and a team from the United States Army, will be going head-to-head to compete for the best of the best title. This competition doesn’t just give us an opportunity to showcase our skills, it also emphasizes the highest priority of worker safety, and the efficiency that is vital to our work being successful.
These proud competitors come to our rodeo with the full expectation of winning. They take time out of their schedules to train and prepare with the intentions of competing at a high level. To try and outthink their opponents on the best way to complete each event faster and SAFER and do so with no deductions, or “gigs” as we call them. Everyone wants their name called at the awards banquet, and everyone that competes, should have their name called … because they are all number 1. But, on this day, someone will prevail as the winner and have the opportunity and honor to walk that stage and be recognized as the best of the best. As in any successful contest, it’s a must that the judges in these events be consistent, fair, and well prepared. Our judges are line workers themselves, so they know what to look for, they know the proper procedures for linework, and how to work safely. A great judge wants every competitor to feel as though they were judged fairly, and consistently … especially if they make a mistake or are given a gig. Our judging team at the Gaff-N-Go believes in that mantra, they are superb, and their excellent work is the primary reason our event continues to grow.
Thanks to my employment as a line worker through VMDAEC member Cooperative Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative in Southside Virginia, I’ve got a job that I wake up every day eager to do. I’ve got the means to support my family. I’ve got a team of men and women dedicated to serving our communities. And thanks to the Gaff-N-Go event, our families get to see their loved one up on that utility pole, competing as the best-of-the-best and raising money for VMDAEC’s scholarship foundation to support future line workers just like me.
This scholarship program quite literally makes line workers’ careers possible by awarding scholarships to students of all kinds, including students that are pursuing a trade education like utility line work. VMDAEC’s Foundation has raised around $950,000 in total awards to date and with this year’s Gaff-N-Go we hope to cross the $1,000,000 threshold. In addition to competing in our Gaff-N-Go and the International Lineman Rodeo in Kansas City, I now serve as chief judge for our competition and seeing the many line workers that have benefitted from this scholarship program has been incredible. This scholarship award is truly life-changing for them and for their families.
The Gaff-N-Go event and the VMDAEC scholarship program are just two of many examples of the good Cooperatives do for Virginia communities — from offering these high-paying jobs to allowing Virginians to work in a rewarding career in the very communities that raised us. Every day, with every event, and every dollar raised, Cooperatives continue to make crystal clear that, just as we’re committed to providing power to nearly 1 million Virginia households, we’re committed to serving Virginia communities.
So, next time you’re in the car or walking the dog and your kids point up to that man or woman up the pole or in the bucket, tell them the story of Virginia’s line workers — tell’em how we keep the lights on for Virginia families and make certain they know we’re damn proud to do it.