Jack Roberts

Put Wounded Warriors back to work

JackNeed motivated, dependable drivers? Look no further

It’s early yet, but encouraging economic signs abound: Jobless claims are falling and freight is moving, and judging by the growing number of ads in driver recruiting magazines, demand for good, qualified truck drivers is skyrocketing. And everybody knows that the trucking industry is a leading economic indicator. On the other hand, credit is still tight and consumers remain hesitant to borrow and spend heavily. But if current trends hold, we’ll soon be through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and well into the recovery phase of this economic cycle.

As this economy gains steam, fleets will need drivers. Safe drivers with proven safety records will be at a premium, but there simply won’t be enough of them to go around. What will you have to do when crunch time comes and it’s time to get your freight moving? Raise your mileage wage? Lower your standards? Cross your fingers and hope for the best?

Well, what if I told you there was an entire pool of potentially outstanding driver candidates waiting, willing and able to drive your trucks – but nobody seems to want to take a chance and put them behind the wheel?

I’m talking about our country’s Wounded Warriors. According to the Department of Defense, last month there were more than 17,000 American servicemen and women listed as Wounded in Action, Not Returned to Duty – our fighting men and women injured in the line of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat operations since 2001.

To be sure, many of these soldiers, seamen, airmen and Marines have been wounded severely and have suffered grievously. All of them have seen their military careers cut short and are wondering how they’re going to make a living and provide for their families given the nature and the extent of the injuries they’ve sustained.

Tough questions need answers, but it’s worth the effort.

Our country does a fine job caring for its fighting men and women, but it’s not in their nature to simply sit back and collect a government check – no matter how well-deserved – when they feel they still can make a meaningful contribution to our society. What about putting them back to work driving one of your trucks?

Granted, there are questions to be answered. It’s a given that advances in prosthetic limbs are remarkable and that wounded veterans have unprecedented abilities and freedom given the severity of their injuries. But public safety always must be the first consideration of any trucking industry initiative. So we have to ask ourselves some tough questions: Can a driver safely operate a big rig with no legs? What if they’re only missing a foot? What if they’re missing an arm? Or both hands? What about eye injuries?

These are questions trucking fleets cannot answer by themselves. It’s going to take veterans affairs groups working with fleets and the Department of Transportation to find the answers. And once we’ve determined that amputees can get behind the wheel safely, it’s going to take partnerships with truck OEMs, component suppliers and dealerships to develop the driving aids that will allow them to do so.

It’s an unprecedented effort, but one worth investigating as an industry. These are, after all, the cream of the crop when it comes to our servicemen and women: A military-trained, highly motivated, highly professional work force – many of whom would have spent their entire professional lives in the military if not for their injuries – sitting there waiting on somebody to take a chance on them. Hiring these men and women will take a lot of work and a lot of new thinking, but the rewards for doing so will be immeasurable. It will be a boost for our industry in many ways, and it could make good business sense in an increasingly tight market for drivers. But more important than that, it’s simply the right thing to do as Americans.

Go to www.woundedwarriorproject.org for more information. n

JACK ROBERTS is Executive Editor, Trucking of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail jroberts@ccjmagazine.com or call (205) 248-1358.