After Dave Carter retired from the Air Force, he started driving an 18-wheeler. When Carter is on the road (which is most of the time now) he sleeps behind the steering on a twin bed in the small cab of the truck, and it reminds him of his time in the military, “A lot of veterans are attracted to this line of work, because the living conditions, sometimes are austere, Spartan in some degree, and for vets, it’s like being deployed,” Carter said.
Carter drives a distinctive big-rig emblazoned with symbols of patriotism for one of the largest trucking companies in the country, Schneider National. Carter pointed to a spot on his fender where the words ‘In Memoriam to Deceased Veterans’ were printed, “It’s called the ‘Ride of Pride.’ There are four of them in the U.S., one in Canada,” Carter said, “They are commemorating active duty folks and veterans.”
The mobile-memorial is also a rolling-advertisement geared to make former military members aware of jobs at Schneider National. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are looking for work, ninety percent of trucking companies say they can’t find enough drivers. Long hours and many nights spent away from home make the driver’s seat difficult to fill, so trucking companies are targeting a group they believe has the skill-set to handle a tough job—veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like other large trucking companies, Schneider National has ramped-up its efforts to recruit veterans since 2001. Vice President of recruiting at Schneider Mike Hinz says close to 15 percent of his approximately 13,000 drivers are veterans and he still wants more.
“They’re fit, drug-free, well-experienced, typically very emotionally mature, wake up on time and work their tails off to do a great job,” Hinz said.
Many former soldiers also have experience driving big vehicles. Thirty two states waive the driving portion of the commercial driver’s license test for veterans who operated large vehicles in the military, but most military vehicles have automatic transmissions, whereas most commercial vehicles have manual transmissions, so even an experienced military driver may need a few lessons before heading across the Rocky Mountains with a full trailer. The Swift Transportation Company, another trucking giant, runs its own truck-driving school. There are five Swift academies across the country, but the largest one is located on Veterans Parkway in Millington and abuts the Navy base there.
On a recent Tuesday, Swift instructor and Vietnam War veteran Jimmy Seaton gave a driving lesson to another, younger veteran, David Day. The truck and trailer Day was learning to maneuver was as big as a whale and Seaton helped him get it around a tight right hand turn near the Memphis airport. Civilians pay about $4,000 for this instruction, but in April Swift started offering their training free to veterans, so Day wasn’t paying a thing.
Day didn’t drive large vehicles in the military, he helped rebuild villages in Afghanistan, but he says his military training taught him to follow instructions. When his instructor asked him to change gears, or make a turn, Day often replied, “Yes, Sir.”
Before Day found Swift, he was one of the 12 percent of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who are unemployed, “A guy like me a lot of my skills don’t transfer over,” Day said, “because I have so little applicable experience living in America. There are no societies in America that need rebuild[ing].”
Day hopes once he gets his commercial license, he’ll never be unemployed again. If he sticks with trucking, within a year he could be making upwards of $50,000. Day hasn’t passed his commercial driving test yet, (he hopes to do that in January), but he says he is already recommending the job to his veteran friends who are out of work.