Smithfield Herald

Truck-driver school expands reach

Henry Lowery, left, a lead instructor in the truck-driver-training school, talks to Fort Bragg soldiers about driving safety.
Henry Lowery, left, a lead instructor in the truck-driver-training school, talks to Fort Bragg soldiers about driving safety.

Johnston County’s truck driver-training school has another stop on its travels across the state – Fort Bragg.

Last week, the school, which is part of Johnston Community College, began its first driver-training courses for soldiers at the U.S. Army base. The training would normally cost about $1,000, but thanks to a federal grant, soldiers have to pay just $120 for the eight-week course, said Paul Jump, program director for the trucking school. The military is paying for the required drug test and physical, he added.

Jump said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration awarded the grant to help ease a shortage of drivers in the commercial trucking industry. The United States has about 3 million truck drivers, he said, but the industry needs another 100,000 or so.

“So they issued a grant in the name of the Division of Motor Vehicles, with the intent of training existing military personnel and their spouses, hopefully preparing (them) for a new line of work when they get out of the army,” Jump said.

Jump said the course will certify soldiers for the Class A commercial driver’s license. “That Class A will allow them to drive anything on the highway with the exception of school buses and motorcycles,” he said.

In all, the driver-training school will offer the course six times over the next year. Each class can accommodate 16 students, and all branches of the military are eligible to enroll.

Benjamin Abel, a spokesman for Fort Bragg, said the course is a good opportunity for soldiers looking for a career after they leave the military. A first-year trucker can earn $40,000 to $45,000 a year, according to JCC. But Abel wants to raise awareness of the training program – only 10 people signed up for the first course.

Abel said having JCC’s truck-driving school so close is helpful, allowing the training to take place on base, which is good for the soldiers and their families. The program began in 1949; it moved to JCC in 1983. “A close school, the oldest in the country, most well-established, can’t ask for more than that,” Abel said. “We are very lucky to be able to partner with them.”

Abel said all soldiers are a little anxious when they transition out of the military and into the civilian workforce. “So this is very helpful in that regard, to put them into an industry that is in need of drivers and has employment opportunities,” he said.

For soldiers who have experience driving in the military, Jump said, learning to drive a tractor-trailer rig will be a bit different. Though those soldiers are accustomed to driving oversized, heavy-duty equipment, all vehicles in the military have automatic transmissions; the rigs do not.

“Most of the industry is non-synchronized, standard-shift transitions,” Jump said. “That’s a major part of mastering that truck in any and all uncontrolled conditions.”

The training school is based at JCC but offers classes throughout the state, Jump said.

“Me being an ex-military person myself many, many years ago, it’s refreshing to go onto the base and to see the attitude and the disposition of all these soldiers, both men and women, and knowing what they’ve done as far as our freedom is concerned,” Jump said. “It’s just a pleasure to give back just a little bit for as much as they have given.”