BRYAN, Texas —
On Wednesday morning, a dozen military veterans could be seen scaling a 200-foot cell tower, some lugging around 70 pounds of tools and equipment up with them.
“Having to go from climbing 400 feet, your heart racing, your hands shaking, to getting up there and having to plug in a fiber connector without breaking the end of it,” course instructor Robert Mckenzie said. “It’s really demanding on these guys to take on that physical aspect and then shut it down for a second and use their brain.”
Each year, TEEX offers a 120-hour tower technician course that has already drawn dozens of veterans from across the country to the RELLIS Campus in Bryan, TX.
The course prepares students for a physically challenging career installing and maintaining wireless communications towers. The training emphasizes safety and hazard awareness, basic rigging and gin pole principles, and the fundamentals of electromagnetic energy radio frequency.
“RELLIS is blurring the line between vocational and academic,” Training manager Len Jenicek said. “We’re moving into the future in a very progressive fashion and the vocational skill sets in combination with the academic is where the future is.”
The TEEX training course is held in conjunction with Warriors 4 Wireless, which provides military veterans with training, advanced certification and other support leading to new careers in the telecommunications industry.
“This isn’t a job for everybody,” Jenicek said. “It’s a good fit for vets because of the challenges involved. This provides a good challenge for people who have already worked in a challenging environment. A lot of the skills they use in the military transfer and apply.”
While the class attracts many veterans, it is open to anyone capable of climbing over 100 feet while carrying 70 pounds of tools and equipment.
Trained tower climbers are in high demand as technology companies race to deploy 5G across the country.
“This is one of the only industries where money literally grows on trees,” Mckenzie said. “It grows right back here on these steel trees and all you have to do is climb up and get it guys. Just be safe while you’re doing it.”
Often, students enrolled in the course receive job offers just days after they begin the training.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai dubbed tower climbers the “unsung heroes of the digital revolution” in a speech at the New York State Wireless Association in June 2019.