Luke Leifeste: When Troubleshooting Is Mission-Critical

NETA World StaffWinter 2021 Insights & Inspiration, Insights & Inspiration

Chief Petty Officer Luke Leifeste is a MUSE Technician (Mobility Utility Support Equipment) deployed by the U.S. Navy to create, secure, and repair electrical power supply systems in Africa. With nearly 18 years in the military, he says the intrigue of troubleshooting in the field keeps him inspired for the next challenge.

NW: How would you describe the nature of your work overseeing electrical-power critical missions for the U.S. Navy?

Leifeste: As far as military appointments go — it’s great, but it’s dangerous. There are pressures and stress, but I would describe those instances more like challenges. Since July, I’ve been stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. My core job is in mobile power generation — generally from a 1-megawatt, 20-foot shipping container up to a 120,000-lb, 2.5-megawatt locomotive engine.

I work on substations as well but on a much smaller scale. For example, we install substations in shipyards so the ships can come in and get the power they need, or people have enough power to perform maintenance on them. I also work in back-up power generation, like in submarine bases that require multiple sources of power. As you can imagine, a submarine losing power can be a serious problem.

NW: What path brought you to this work?

Leifeste: Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career, so the Navy seemed like a good idea. When I first joined in 2004, I wanted to do something in electricity — but was told no because I am partially colorblind — so, I started as a heavy equipment construction mechanic. While learning my trade, I heard about MUSE and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I knew that was my path.

In 2008, I was accepted into MUSE and attended the Army Prime Power School in Virginia. It was an intense, one-year program that included math, physics, science, mechanical and electrical system engineering, and the fundamentals of power generation and operation. At the end, you select a specialty, and I chose electrical testing and troubleshooting. I have always been interested in electricity — how it works and how it’s used in the world — and I am inspired by how important it is to society. It’s a field with a lot of opportunity.

NW: What keeps you dedicated to the work?

Leifeste: I’m always learning something new. I never get bored. The work is very intriguing to me. There’s always some sort of challenge. I love working with my team to deliver critical power and see the end result.

NW: What about this work is challenging for you?

Leifeste: In Djibouti, the only power they have is what they produce themselves. That means lots of logistics to keep plants up and running. When you’re working out of an overseas base, it can be hard to get the parts you need, plus COVID certainly has hindered certain projects and even kept them from happening.

When you go on a mission to install power and the power is on, no one really thinks about it. However, when the power is off, people are asking questions. It can be challenging to work through that stress quickly but also safely. The power is needed to make sure the mission continues. That’s why I like MUSE; the strength of the program is in the experience and knowledge of the team that supports the mission.

NW: What advice would you have for a young technician, or someone interested in this field?

Leifeste: The work can be daunting, but if you have a passion for it, you’ll take the time to learn it however you can. There’s always something new to learn, and after each level you reach, you can look to the next level that you want to be. That’s what keeps me going. You just have to bring the passion and the desire to learn.

NW: What does a good workday look like for you?

Leifeste: A great day is when we solve an issue, no matter how long it takes. I remember once in Guantanamo Bay, we were staying late, exhausted, installing these units and trying to figure out a problem. We decided to take a rest and leave, come back the next day. In the morning, we came back as a team and figured it out. When the customer sees what you do and appreciates your skillset and what you did to troubleshoot, that’s a good day. It’s a relief and an accomplishment, and those are the days that keep me going.

NW: What does a bad day look like?

Leifeste: In the electrical field, the worse day is someone getting hurt. But other than that, I’d say when something isn’t working and you can’t figure it out, and all eyes are on you. Or, if you make a mistake — and that does happen sometimes in the field — and it affects your ability to get the unit up…like if you miss something or don’t do something correctly. It’s easy to get a little angry at yourself; it happens to everyone on this job. The pressure is really on when you can’t bring the power back on, but we use those times as learning experiences, as hard as they may be.

NW: What energy trends do you believe will affect your work moving forward?

Leifeste: I expect to see a lot more renewables. As the technology continues to grow, customers ask, “Why aren’t we using more of these?” Solar and wind haven’t been as reliable, but it’s getting there. Everything is demand-based, and the wind is not always there. The sun is not always there. But the technology is improving all the time, and I see it growing in the future. It’s a good thing, and we ought to embrace it, but we need energy when we need it. We’ve got to integrate more renewables into the energy grid.

NW: What would you like to see the electrical power industry focused on in the coming year?

Leifeste: The continued advancement of technology. We’ve come so far, but there are serious challenges in cybersecurity and its effects on the electrical power industry. Those have to be considered and addressed. Getting more advanced gives us the ability to do more while reducing cost and increasing reliability.


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