Advice From a Vet: Meet Navajo Christine Bigman: Warrior Strong, Her Military Toughness Helps Her Succeed
When she was an Army cook, Christine Bigman personified precision and efficiency. She accurately measured and blended diverse culinary ingredients, artfully prepared tasty and filling meals for thousands of Soldiers, and ordered enough food to fulfill upcoming menus.
So how did the former sergeant make the jump from handling spatulas and mixers to operating electrical equipment?
“Like in the military, I had to go to a school with a strenuous curriculum to learn my current job,” Bigman said. “However, the discipline, focus and attention to detail that I picked up in the Army really helped me make a successful transition.”
On the Job
Bigman, 33, is an operations and maintenance specialist for SRP, a major Southwestern electric and water utility. She is one of 73 military veterans assigned to the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona, which provides electricity to customers in Arizona, Nevada and California.
Bigman works in the plant’s operation department – operating and maintaining a range of equipment dealing with water treatment, brine concentration, fuel unloading, waste management, and cooling towers, transformers and circuit breakers. She works 12-hours, normally from 0700 to 1900 or 1900-0700, on rotating shifts. When Bigman arrives for a shift, she receives an equipment briefing, then proceeds with her daily troubleshooting. She also serves on the Emergency Response Team.
“One thing my employer loves is the fact that I show up on time for work, I’m motivated to do a good job and I know how to spot problems,” Bigman said. “What you might think is routine in the military is exceptional at civilian companies. They love the military work ethic.”
SRP consists of two entities: (1) the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, a political subdivision of the state of Arizona, and (2) the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association, a private corporation. The district provides electricity to nearly 934,000 retail customers in the Phoenix area. It operates 11 major power plants and numerous other generating stations, including thermal, nuclear, natural gas and hydroelectric sources. The association delivers nearly 1 million acre-feet of water annually to a service area in central Arizona. An extensive water delivery system is maintained and operated by the association, including reservoirs, wells, canals and irrigation laterals. SRP has 4,461 employees and earned 2008 revenues of $419 million. New employees enjoy benefits that include health and life insurance, 401(k), an incentive pay program, a retirement plan, telecommuting options, and paid military and jury duty leave. SRP also provides cafeterias at major plants, dry-cleaning services at some plants, recreational facilities such as fitness centers and swimming pools, and a credit union. Ambitious employees can take advantage of career services, tuition assistance, professional seminars and workshops, and various training programs.
Bigman is from Navajo Nation, living on the portion of the reservation that houses the Navajo Generating Station. After graduating from high school in 1994, she knew she wanted to see the world beyond the reservation.
“I wanted to travel and see the world,” she said. “I also wanted career training and to do something challenging.”
After boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Bigman attended food specialist training at Fort Lee, Virginia She was stationed in Kentucky, Korea, Texas, Germany and Iraq.
By 2007 Bigman decided it was time to leave the Army. After taking several transition and résumé-writing classes, she returned home to the Navajo reservation. She worked security for six months when she heard the Navajo Generating Station was hiring.
“The plant said applicants didn’t need experience because they would train them,” Bigman said. “I applied, went through the interview process and was accepted into the school. It was very difficult and lasted seven weeks, but my military toughness helped me succeed. Bigman said her transition classes didn’t prepare her for taxes in the civilian world. “If you’re thinking about getting out of the military, look into how much taxes and insurance will be taken from your paychecks.”
Plan ahead. Get all your paperwork in order and create a game plan a year before you get out.
Work on your resume and research where you want to work. Get rid of all the military jargon. You also need to figure out what you want to do in the civilian world.
Don't procrastinate. That separation date comes quickly and, before you know it, the military paychecks stop. Plan your transition with a sense of urgency.
This article was originally published by G.I. Jobs Magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.