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"Truck drivers are out there as part of the vision of their company. Veterans' core values — loyalty, honor, self-discipline — allow companies to put the trust and confidence in veterans that they will go out on the road and represent them well," Schenkel tells Fleet Owner.
SPC Don Gray, a heavy equipment operator in the 618th Engineer Support Company, 37th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps tests his time in changing a tire on an M1078 light-medium tactical vehicle. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)
When it comes to it, a job like driving a heavy-duty truck on U.S. roadways is different than many you'll find in the civilian sector — it's more regulated and structured, for instance, and involves operating more serious hardware than many potential new hires would be comfortable doing. Military veterans' experience often gives them an edge in being successful in that role and other trucking industry positions, says Jason Schenkel, who recently joined southeastern U.S. motor carrier Holland as a hiring manager.
He should know. Before this, Schenkel spent 16 of his 23 years of active duty in the Army as a professional recruiter helping find young men and women who would serve and someday become part of that veteran population. "I was selected as a detailed recruiter back in 1998," he tells Fleet Owner, adding that he enjoyed the work so much that he made recruiting his specialty.
Schenkel notes that veterans often have experience with heavy-grade equipment, and at an early age, so operating vehicles like a heavy truck hauling freight is a readier fit than it is for other would-be applicants. "I could come right out of high school at 18 years old into the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines," he says, "and they could put me into an 80-ton truck, tank or other vehicle, license me on it and let me drive it around.
"At 18, 19, 20 years old, [many veterans] learned to do that and also handle stress and make decisions — possibly life-altering decisions — in tough situations, in some cases while leading others," Schenkel continues. In the frenzied, congested conditions America's highways and byways present on a daily basis, he contends, "that's why veterans can do so well."
That sort of experience is one of the reasons trucking companies, which have long faced a driver shortfall that's projected to grow significantly in the coming years, are doing more to reach out to veterans to fill needed positions. Another is the more regimented, structured nature of driver and other trucking industry jobs, which Schenkel says can be a difficult adjustment for new hires.
"Look at the operational structure and business environment [of trucking] in terms of the leadership and rank structure of the military," he explains. "They're very similar, so veterans know that same kind of structure." It's not just the tighter restrictions and controls that go with the job, Schenkel points out, but how about the time away from home truck drivers often face that can make the job more stressful?
Again, Schenkel says veterans have an advantage in that their families are more used to — and often are even built around — schedules that include such away time, and likely for longer periods than a job in trucking would involve. Sometimes, he says, military families can have a harder time adjusting from active duty life to a more conventional 9-to-5 civilian job.
"For a truck driver, can your family operate and do what they have to do when you're gone? Most military families do not have issues doing that," Schenkel says. "So veterans probably have a better opportunity to adapt to the environment, be successful at it and come onboard a lot faster than most new hires would."