Shifting Gears from Military to Civilian Careers

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CSM’s Transportation Training Prepares Vets for Life after Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines

Transitioning from military to civilian life allowed Tavares Jefferson to move from a focus on protecting his country to a focus on protecting his family. By building on the skills and qualifications he gained in training with the Army, then at the College of Southern Maryland’s Center for Transportation Training, Jefferson, 32, of Chaptico, is positioning himself for greater employment opportunities, higher paying jobs and a better life for his children. “My main emphasis is on my kids. I have so much support from my friends and family because they see me bettering myself,” said Jefferson.

Jefferson is not alone in his pursuit of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) following military service. In this spring’s CDL class, six of eight students are veterans. One factor veterans cite when choosing CSM for CDL training is that the program is approved by the Veterans Administration for the use of veterans benefits through the GI Bill.

 “From service assignments around the globe, local veterans have converged at CSM for training they can use as they transition to civilian life whether recently separated from service or are decades away from their days in uniform,” said CSM Continuing Education and Workforce Development Vice President Dr. Dan Mosser. “There is a push to provide training and jobs to returning veterans, and CSM is in a great position to provide help to our servicemen and women.”

With more than 30 years of instruction, CSM’s Commercial Truck Driver Training Program has helped more than 1,800 individuals get their licenses.

“Almost 95 percent of our students graduate from the program and approximately 75 percent remain employed in the transportation industry,” said Lead CDL Instructor Eric “Mac” McCollum.

McCollum understands what his veteran students are facing when transitioning from military to civilian life because he retired from the Navy in 1990.

“I got out on May the 8th, went fishing on the 9th and started back to work on the 10th,” he said. When that company folded a few years later McCollum wasn’t sure what would be next. At the unemployment office, a veterans representative asked McCollum if he wanted to drive a truck. A few weeks after completing the course, McCollum was hired by CSM as a range monitor assisting with setting up training courses at the Center for Transportation Training. “I started in August 1993 and the job was supposed to be temporary—but I stayed.”

There are more than 500,000 trucking companies of various sizes from the largest with thousands of vehicles to the smallest with only one truck. One out of every seven jobs is transportation related, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The trucking industry is huge and employs more than 20 million people as drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and fleet management.

“What we learned [in CDL training] is that without trucks moving products and materials around the country, the economy would come to a screeching halt in about three days. That makes the trucking industry pretty important to our country,” said Jefferson.

Heading for Texas Oil Fields

Craig Davies, 27, who served in Marine Corps motor vehicle operations for more than six years felt he had a head start in the program. Although he had driven large vehicles at bases in the U.S. and Afghanistan, they did not require shifting or double-clutching 10 gears, he said.

“I don’t think people realize how much skill goes into driving a [tractor trailer],” said Davies.

Davies plans to move from the D.C. Metro area to Texas to follow a lead on a job working on an oil field. Fellow classmate Ken Ackley, 27, of Largo, is following a similar route to Texas.

As a Navy petty officer, Ackley served as an operations specialist radarman for four years. A stay-home father of three children under the age of 3, Ackley is preparing to swap jobs with his wife once she completes her service in the Navy and the family moves to San Antonio.


Goal: NASCAR Circuit

Ray Bensen, a former military police officer for the U.S. Air Force, has been out of the military for 10 years. Now, working as a mechanic for the auto industry, Bensen, 36, of La Plata, wanted to add a CDL to his resume so he will be ready to implement his plan to drive fan apparel for the NASCAR circuit in a few years with his wife who is currently completing her military service obligation.

“Our goal is for her to get a CDL, too, and we can travel together—maybe have our own rig,” said Bensen.


Building a Resume of Divergent Skills

Pete Waters, 52, of Lusby, retired as a commander from the Navy in 2009. A pilot with 21 years of service, Waters was looking for career options when he signed up for CDL training.

“I might be considered a professional student or someone who collects degrees,” said Waters of his associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and vehicle licenses. “Driving a truck is hard work and driving a truck over the Solomons [TJ Johnson] Bridge will be the highlight of my year,” he said.

Waters said that in giving flying lessons there were two sets of controls so that the instructor can take over if the student falters—but instructors in the CDL class solely give vocal commands to guide students in the right direction. “It takes nerves and patience to be a truck driving instructor,” he said.


Staying Local

Ryan Purvis, 28, of Alexandria, Virginia, trained as an Army infantry specialist and served for four years. CDL training will provide him with the skills he needs to get a job with UPS or Federal Express and stay in the D.C. Metro region.

“This will provide job security for me and for my family,” Purvis said.


CSM’s CDL instruction begins with four 10-hour days that prepare students to earn a learner’s permit before the start of behind-the-wheel training. Students also need to pass a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) physical and a drug screening test.