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January 2024

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'The World That's Been Missing'
Colorado Veteran Finds His Home in the IBEW

Josiah Crowden tried his hand at all sorts of things after serving out his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force nearly 20 years ago.

His early jobs were a matter of survival — a video game store, a day care center, an awful stint as a prison guard. He was a young veteran doing whatever he had to do to support his wife and child.

But before long, the marriage fell apart and Crowden briefly became one of America's tens of thousands of homeless veterans. Achingly hungry and deeply depressed, he slept in his car until a tax refund and shifts at Chipotle afforded him a tiny apartment.

Today, Crowden is a thriving Xcel Energy utility worker and active member of Denver Local 111, arriving at the local in his mid-30s after years working in sales and real estate as he rebuilt his life.

He knew he'd found his home.

"I was trudging through life, trying to find my place. And some of the things I did were great. But none of it gave me that purpose I once had, where you're on a mission and you're part of something bigger, something greater.

"When I found the IBEW, I thought, 'This is the world that's been missing for me.'"

CROWDEN knows how starved many veterans are for that sense of belonging. Preaching the union message — partial, of course to the IBEW — has become his calling.

"In the military, you're closer than brothers. You're together 24/7. And when you leave, you start looking for that camaraderie and fulfillment and you can't find it," he says.

He is featured in a recent IBEW video, part of the union's outreach to veterans who are looking for a new calling in their civilian lives.

"As veterans, there are three core values — integrity, service before self, excellence in all you do," Crowden says to the camera. "It's ingrained in us from the very beginning. You've got to do your best. You've got to be your best."

Local 111 Business Manager Nate Gutierrez said Crowden is an ideal ambassador, whether one-on-one or speaking at job fairs and meetings, sometimes spontaneously.

Describing one such event, he said, "Unscripted, unasked-for, he grabbed the mike and talked about leaving the military and longing for something to fill that void.

"His smile, for one, always catches you," Gutierrez said. "His energy, his excitement, his love for the IBEW is contagious."

It's evident that Crowden is as proud and grateful an IBEW brother as those with decades under their belts.

"I have more IBEW shirts than I know what to do with, and I can never get enough swag," he says. "There's so much pride walking around with it, showing it off."

MOST EVERYONE calls Crowden "Chief," a moniker that stuck from his days as a crew chief at the Air Force base in Little Rock, Ark.

He laughs, knowing it can be confusing to people, given his heritage.

"I'm kind of a joyous mix," Crowden says. "My dad, he's a Southern boy, born in Arkansas, raised in Mississippi. Then he joined the Air Force, moved to Colorado, met my mom at church and never went back. On my mom's side, I'm First Peoples of Colorado, a mix of the Apache Chiricahua tribe, Navajo and Ute."

The nickname bothered his bosses at Xcel, who called him into a meeting last spring and asked him to give it up. "They said, 'There are other Native Americans here, and they might be offended.' I said: 'Who said anything about it being Native? I've been 'Chief' for 20 years. My flight crews called me that. I earned it.'" With a steward on his side, Xcel concurred.

But Chief isn't the only title he relishes today.

"The first person to call me 'brother,' the first time it really stuck, was a foreman on my first job. He was 'Brother this' and 'Brother that,' and I said, 'Why do you call everyone that?'

"Because that's what we are," he told Crowden. "At the end of the day, you ensure that I go home to my family and you go home to yours."

"I said: 'It's just like the military. It's another brotherhood.'"

CROWDEN enlisted out of high school, hoping to be a pilot. For a young airman, "I got probably the best job the Air Force has to offer," he says, leading a team servicing C-130 cargo planes. One of the behemoths had his name on it.

"On the side of the plane, it said 'Airman First Class Josiah Crowden," he says. "That was my bird. I was 100% responsible for it."

But personal responsibilities weighed on him, too. He was struggling long distance to save his troubled marriage and worried about his baby daughter.

He grew up in a close-knit family and wanted the same for his child. Making the difficult decision to leave the military, he returned to Denver, then agreed to move near his wife's family north of Dallas.

It turned out to be the road to misery. Six months later, Crowden was sleeping in his Saturn, "showering" at a gas station sink, and launching a custody battle that dragged on for years.

He hit rock bottom the day he found himself holding a sign at a freeway exit: "Homeless Vet. Hungry."

"I got spit at. People threw things at me. It wasn't more than a day or two, but it was the most degrading, defeating moment of my life," Crowden says.

But there were also kindnesses. Like the older woman who looked in his eyes, saw his humanity and pressed $60 into his hands. And the friends with little to nothing to spare who handed him $300 and told him, "Go home."

Countless times over the years, he has paid those gestures forward, on his own and through his church's many charities.

"I know what it means to be without, and Lord knows I know what it is to be cold," he says.

"Through the IBEW, all my needs are met. My family's needs are met. I can afford to buy a homeless man a pair of boots, I can give a child a pair of shoes and warm clothes and buy them a toy, and I don't have to worry about it affecting my ability to pay the electric bill.

"But if I did, I'd sit there with the lights off."

IN THE YEARS after his return to Colorado, Crowden sold surgical equipment, ran the gaming department at a Best Buy and eventually went into real estate with his second wife, Amanda.

"We're going on 14 years," he says. "She's everything to me, and she's given us two little boys that are absolutely fantastic."

When the pandemic wreaked havoc on the couple's business, Crowden reasoned, "I didn't want my paycheck to be reliant on whether or not someone buys or sells a home."

Looking for more stability, his life changed the day he visited a fellow veteran and watched video of him at work — his friend and another man hooking up to the belly of a helicopter, grasping the cable and being lifted above the landscape into a bright blue sky.

"I said: 'Are you kidding me? What are you doing?' He said, 'Man, I'm a journeyman lineman.'"

Crowden was amazed — by the work, as well as the money his friend earned.

In retrospect, it wasn't the first time he'd been awed by a Local 111 lineman, recalling a childhood memory of an uncle who is still in the field today.

"One day my uncle came over to my grandma's and put on his gaffs and strap, and I watched him hand-over-hand climb up the pole in our back yard," he says. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever."

He called the uncle, who told him, "Go down and sign the books." Soon after submitting his application to Local 111, Crowden began entry-level work.

After gaining experience with smaller electrical companies and contractors, a bit of a rough and winding road that included months away from his family, Crowden was hired by Xcel in August 2022.

Soon, he was at the company's "School of Dirt," having the time of his life learning how to use heavy equipment to dig the gas and electric lines he helps install today.

While he's decided at age 39 not to pursue the path of a linemen, he counts at least 14 other career options through the union at Xcel.

"I'll tell you, with IBEW, the search is over," Crowden says. "This is where I'm retiring."

Then he pauses.

"Let me take that back. I'm not retiring," he says. "I'm here until I'm done. I'm here until the good Lord calls me home."


"I was trudging through life, trying to find my place. … With the IBEW, the search is over."

– Josiah Crowden, Air Force veteran and Denver Local 111 member


Josiah Crowden, his wife, Amanda, and their two sons at church, holding a photo of an African girl the family sponsors. A once-homeless veteran, Crowden strives to pay forward the help he got, while also stressing, "I wouldn't be where I am without God."