Ready to Serve - The Citizen Soldiers of Expediting
With the possibility of full-scale conflict in the Middle East in the near future, Army Reserve and National Guard units across the US will continue to be called to active duty. Some citizen-soldiers from expediting have been called already, both company employees and owner/operators alike.
There are other folks in this industry who have yet to be called, but state that they are prepared when the time comes. Not all of the reservists who are activated will be headed overseas and combat areas, but rather, will fill positions vacated by other personnel who will be assigned to those regions of conflict.
Here's a closer look at some of expediting's citizen soldiers.
David Kear is a straight truck owner/operator leased with Con-Way NOW. He is also a Staff Sergeant assigned to the 171st Com Flight, part of the Pittsburgh Air National Guard.
The 47 year-old expediter was in the reserves until he left the service in 1989. He returned to the military in 1995 and hopes to put in his 20 years. David's Military Occupational Specialty is as a telephone technician, networking with computers and fiber optics.
"There's been no word yet about my unit being activated, but I'm ready if called," he says.
David, who is originally from Wheeling WV, and his wife Barbara have operated as a team with Con-Way NOW for around a year, but he has a long history of professional driving. He drove tractor-trailer for Contract Freighters, Inc. for a number of years, but says that, "I couldn't go back to running solo or driving the big trucks!"
After Barbara attended driving school, the couple entered the expediting field 3 1/2 years ago. David tells us:
"We love expediting; we can pick and choose our runs. After years in the big trucks, running a straight truck is like driving an RV."
"Con-Way NOW has been real good with us; they're a good solid company with roots in trucking. We've been leased to other companies, but we didn't enjoy it like we do now."
"I hear complaints about other companies and how they put on too many trucks, but Con-Way NOW doesn't seem to do that."
"Business has been picking up; it's a fact of life that automotive freight has been the backbone of expediting and we do a lot of automotive loads."
David says that if his unit is called up, Barbara will continue to run the truck solo. David's activation would surely mean money difficulties due to reduced revenue available for the truck in a single operation. They have a recently purchased new home to pay for and an extended deployment for David will strain their financial situation.
"Naturally, if my unit is called up, I will go. I'm not looking for a fight, but it's my duty as a member of the Guard."
So says Eric Van Etten, a company driver for expedited carrier Try Hours of Maumee, OH and member of the Michigan National Guard. Eric, 40, is a resident of Grand Rapids, MI and has been driving a 24- foot straight truck with Try Hours for 3 years.
"If my unit is activated," says Eric, "both my family (three adult children) and I will be a little nervous. As far as my job in the military, it will be like my everyday job."
That's because Private First Class Van Etten's Military Occupational Specialty is, you guessed it, Truck Driver. He drives a tractor-trailer for his Guard unit, the 1462nd Transportation Battalion, based out of Grand Rapids, MI.
"The tractors I drive are designated "936" and "939"; I believe they are built by GM," Eric states. "We have both single and double axle tractors with both manual and auto transmissions and they are split between hard tops and soft tops. The trailers we pull are classified as medium-duty - often 33 foot flatbed trailers with wooden sides."
"I usually run team and we haul mostly perishable items and general commodity type of freight."
Eric says that Hours of Service are not a concern in the military. He and his co-driver will often work and drive for 20-30 hours; it depends on the needs of the mission. And, despite their support role, Eric and his team member are well-armed with personal M-16's and with truck mounted M-2 .50 caliber machine guns, or Squad Automatic Weapons (SAW) or M-19 Grenade Launchers.
"I entered the National Guard in March 1991 and was on active duty until August of that year. I remained in the Guard for 9 years, and then left for a year. I went back in for another year and recently re-enlisted for another three years.
"I love the military; being in the Guard has helped me to learn to deal with stress, and how to work with different personalities. It's given me different experiences, and of course, VA benefits."
Eric has been driving professionally for 10 years now, and says, "I like expediting, even though it's kind of slow right now. I used to do local deliveries before, but driving has taken me all over the US. I love the open road, and the sights I get to enjoy."
Although Eric's Guard unit has a "secondary" activation status, the call to duty could come at any time.
"There's been a lot of guessing about where my unit would go; it could be Turkey, Kuwait, Afghanistan - we could even stay in the US as part of Homeland Security."
"Try Hours has been very supportive because of this uncertainty; lately, they have been trying to get me home as often as possible."
"In the first Gulf War, around 50 per cent of the US troops involved were National Guard and Reserves.
This time around, it will probably be the same."
Jeff Suhre of Indianapolis, IN is a veteran of both expediting and the military. This 26 year US Army veteran has seen a good deal of the world and has been involved in two major military engagements during his service time.
Jeff is a Sergeant in the Army Reserves, working in his Military Occupational Specialty of 75B20 - Company Clerk, or as he jokingly refers to it, "Radar O'Reilly."
Since entering the service in the 1970's, Jeff's US Army history has featured stints at Ft Knox, KY; Ft Benjamin Harrison, IN; Ft Campbell, KY; and Ft Irwin, CA's National Training Center, to name a few. He has traveled extensively; Greece, Tokyo, Korea, The Philippines, Singapore and Germany with multiple assignments to some of those locations. Jeff was also a participant in Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia and spent time in Bosnia.
"I left active duty in 1992," Jeff says, "and entered the Individual Ready Reserves. My parents were leased to Roberts Express from 1988-1995, so I thought I'd try my hand at expediting as well. As a matter of fact, my brother is with FedEx Custom Critical; he has been running a "C" unit with then for about 9 years.
"I ran with Roberts for 4 1/2 years, until I was called back to the Army in January 1995 for duty in Bosnia. During that time, I hired a driver for my truck, and my wife took care of the business."
He returned to civilian life in the latter part of 1995 and resumed his driving career. He changed carriers a few years ago, and has been operating his 1996 International 4900 (16 foot box and 60" double bunk sleeper) with Tri-State Expedited Service the last 6 years.
Jeff talks about his firm belief in expense management: "A contractor has to very careful in what they buy; I think you should buy used if you can because it's not necessary to buy the latest and greatest. In my case, I bought my International in '98 and it was a lot easier to manage the $800 monthly payment than a $1200-$1500 payment."
"I like expediting: The business has good rates and the straight trucks get good fuel mileage in comparison with the big trucks who are making substantially less per mile in many cases. With my size truck, I don't layover much because it's cheaper to deadhead home if I'm close enough. I don't have to park in truck stops and I take what time I need for fishing and bowling when I want."
"I think one change coming up in this business is that companies will cut back on cargo vans; I think the manufacturers see the value in shipping larger loads than they used to in cargo vans and that's why van freight is decreasing."
Jeff's wife is from Thailand and he says that he looks forward to retiring in that part of the world and "enjoying the sunshine." He has two grown children; his son is a second lieutenant in the US Air Force and stationed in Germany and his daughter is a college student.
Jeff states that he has a partial disability from a service-related injury and because he entered the military in Indiana, college education of his children was free!
Coincidentally, at the time of our interview, Sergeant Suhre had just received a call from the Reserves and he was waiting to hear if he would be going to Milwaukee (his current Army Reserve assignment) or St. Louis for a year of active duty.
"I'm going to will the truck for the year I'll be on duty. It shouldn't really pose a financial hardship because I'm well compensated while on active duty and I've have always tried to live within my means."
"I could retire next month, but I figure on staying in as long as I can to build up the retirement benefits."