Elizabeth Perez-Halperin vividly remembers Oct. 12, 2000, as the day that changed my life forever.
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That was when terrorists blew a hole in the U.S. destroyer Cole docked off Yemen, killing 17 sailors. One of those victims was her closest friend from Navy boot camp, Lakiba Nicole Palmer of San Diego.
The attack, coupled with her growing belief that Americas demand for oil helps fund terrorists and their allies, has committed Perez-Halperin to new missions since she left the Navy in 2005.
Now 33, Perez-Halperin has launched a San Diego-based startup company called GC Green that secures funding from public and private sources to train and connect veterans to jobs in the green energy field. For example, filling a need for energy auditors to help homeowners save on utility bills.
Palmer continues to motivate her effort.
She has to live beyond that day, Perez-Halperin said.
Perez-Halperin also champions energy security by promoting alternatives to oil. Thats what brought her to Sacramento recently to urge the California Air Resources Board to continue a controversial regulation aimed at forcing oil companies to reduce the carbon content in transportation fuels.
It was brief, but riveting testimony about the loss of her friend and her own father, a veteran of the first Gulf War.
You can imagine the frustration that I and so many others felt when we learned that our addiction to oil was helping to fund the very same terrorist organization that had attacked the USS Cole, she said, pausing to compose herself.
Some veterans dont see it that way. Willie Galvan, a retired Korean War-era veteran and state commander of the nonprofit American GI Forum of California, wrote a recent column critical of the air board, arguing that more regulations put the countrys energy security and businesses at further risk, especially with the economy so wobbly.
There are those who imply that the only threat to adequate energy supplies is reliance on imported crude. But they conveniently neglect to consider that Californias regulatory structure has increasingly been the cause of declining in-state production and rising imports, Galvan wrote.
As for replacing fossil fuels with alternatives, the reality is they are neither sufficiently available or competitively priced, he wrote.
Perez-Halperin and others say their primary fears are imports from countries friendly to terrorists and the risk of future war for oil. The long-term solution is to slow those imports by investing in alternative sources, they argue.
Perez-Halperin knows fuel. During her military service she served as an aviation logistics specialist providing combat support for U.S. and NATO forces. In Bahrain and other places she was in charge of transporting and ordering fuel supplies.
I could not understand why were purchasing fuel from countries that wish us harm. It was a gut check, she said.
After leaving the Navy, I was searching for change and not sure where to find it, Perez-Halperin said.
She soon discovered her calling.
I wanted to address the environment, energy and veterans, she explained.
That led to GC Green, which began to find its footing this year, securing various grants to train veterans and find work to subcontract jobs to others in San Diego and across the state.
GC Green has helped train over 600 auditors statewide, most of them veterans, in collaboration with other organizations, Perez-Halperin said. About dozen or so have found jobs on projects. Shes certainly helped grow my business, said Bruce Cheney, a disabled veteran who owns Anchors Aweigh Energy in San Diego. We would not be where we are today without working with GC Green.
Cheney, who shares Perez-Halperins view that the countrys security depends on weaning off imported oil, works with homeowners on energy audits, writing up recommendations that pencils out the cost and potential long-term savings.
His experience indicates that the average home uses far more energy than necessary. That is too much fossil fuel and we get it from countries who dont like us, Cheney said.
Green energy alternatives, he continued, create the jobs here that cant be shipped overseas.
Perez-Halperin Noted that she has not been able to do it alone. She credits several groups with providing support. Among those: the San Diego offices of the Conservation Services Group and Mission Continues, which helps disabled veterans give back through public service. She also attended Entrepreneurs Bootcamp for Veterans based in Syracuse, N.Y.
Its probably not surprising that Perez-Halperin took this path. When she was just 12, she wrote an essay on freedom that touched on Operation Desert Storm to drive Saddam Husseins Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The daughter of a career soldier, Perez received an A. She also sees through a different lens as a Native American, part of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians tribe near Yosemite, Perez-Halperin said.
Environment, sustainability, is very important to me, she said. Some of her work has been with tribal ventures.
With the last of the combat troops in Iraq now home safe for the holidays, Perez-Halperin said she is even more determined to help those returning to civilian life to find jobs.
She is also driven by memories of another friend who returned home from Afghanistan deeply depressed, committing suicide not long ago.
This stuff is real. It is not TV, she said. These are real issues that America needs to face and address. What do we do when they all come home?
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