Veterans ahead

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"But if you got pride and you're proud you do. Hey, we could use some more like me and you." --From “Stars & Stripes” by Aaron Tippin


I had the great luck to actually meet country western artist Aaron Tippin at the Mid America Trucking Show one year (I'm a huge fan of his music) and got to talk with him for a spell. I related that his song "Stars & Stripes" was a big hit among many of the military service men and women I know living in my neck of the woods and he told me those are just the people he had in mind when he wrote it. "I have the greatest respect for them -- they are the best 'can do' people in the world," he told me.


(Important tip: If you ever get the chance to meet one of your favorite bands or singers, NEVER do it after you've been on your feet since 4 a.m. and sweating like crazy in the heat. I babbled like a fool with Mr. Tippin and I know I must've smelled pretty ripe. Yet he never told me to get lost -- he's really one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.)


The reason I am bringing all of this up is that military veterans -- men and women alike -- are, I think, going to be THE single most critical pool of potential drivers for trucking in the decade ahead. They are folks with the right mix of character, discipline, training, and sheer toughness to be successful behind the wheel.


I know this to be true because I've had the good fortune to know a lot of current and ex-military members in my life, starting with my immediate family (my dad and uncle, both former U.S. Marine Corps officers), extended family (Col. Drew Kosmowski, surgeon, U.S. Army), friends and neighbors (Col. George Franco and Lt. Col. Jay Rouse [Ret.], U.S. Army) and of course many, many truck drivers -- including Sean McEndree, a wounded Iraq veteran who turned his truck into a rolling memorial honoring many of the fallen soldiers in thw terrible ongoing conflict over there, including the best friend who saved his life, Sgt. Barry Meza.


We all know this industry is critically short of drivers for the amount of freight it hauls -- 20,000 at current estimates -- and that the shortage is only going to get worse -- topping 100,000 by decade's end. Yet it's not like you can go out and hire a few warm bodies, plop them in a truck cab, and send them on their way (though, and I hate to say it, more than a few fleets out there take this approach).


Trucking is at once a very boring and very dangerous job -- just like soldiering. My dad once told me being a Marine is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. Though he never saw combat, field exercises in the Philippines proved just as dangerous: he nearly lost one of his Marines to a snake bite and, well before the age of emergency dust offs by helicopter, only just managed to get him out of the bush in time. The same extremes exist in trucking, too: one minute you are cruising along in hum-drum traffic; the very next swerving violently to avoid an accident.


And truck drivers more often than not become first repsonders of sorts as well -- and keeping cool in an emergency situation is absolutely a core part of military training. I remember talking with then-Captain (now Major) Laura McHugh of the 131st Transportation Company about how she drummed basic medical skills into the soliders under her command, to the point where they were almost field-grade medics. Her Pennsylvania National guard unit spent 14 months running convoys throughout Iraq and their ingenuity in keeping trucks up and running and people alive and well can be valuable assets that in trucking back here at home.


Many fleets are already way ahead of the game here. Cardinal Logistics is one that's working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Army to line up jobs for soldiers once they leave the service. I also remember a news story from last year about a trucking school located outside the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, CA, that had mulitple job offers precisely because the bulk of its graduates are ex-Marines.


This isn't to say every military veteran is going to be a perfect fit for the driver's seat and other trucking jobs, but almost all of them have the skills and training already in place to make them good candidates -- because they really are some of the best 'can do' people in the business.

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