By Carmen K. Sisson | Randall-Reilly/J.B. Hunt Transport Services
Anthony Harris keeps his dog tags hanging inside his truck. Brent Stoufer and Joshua Matson wear camouflage ball caps while on their routes. All three have something in common: They are military veterans and are among the first drivers to participate in Hunt’s Heroes, a new program officially launched in April by J.B. Hunt Transport Services.
The program offers Class A driving positions for current members of the military and veterans who have been discharged from active duty within the past three years. Participants can use their G.I. Bill to attend Hunt’s Military Finisher program, which provides 40 to 160 hours of training at approved driving schools and pays room, board, and daily wages.
More than 30 veterans have been hired through the program so far, and J.B. Hunt has committed to hiring more than 1,000 veterans through Hunt’s Heroes by 2015. Interest in the program has spread quickly, prompting an expansion from five markets to approximately 30 micro-markets.
A normal trucking company wouldn’t look twice at you because you don’t have any (commercial) experience, but at J.B. Hunt, they look at you as a soldier. They know you’ve got your bearings and are (quick) to learn and easy to teach. … It’s a stellar company. ~ Anthony Harris, driver
The idea came about after J.B. Hunt officials learned that more and more states were applying for a Skills Test Waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The waiver allows eligible military applicants to substitute two years of experience driving military vehicles for the skills test portion of the commercial driver’s license exam. According to the FMCSA, all 50 states now offer the military skills test waiver, paving the way for former military drivers to earn their CDL, even without commercial driving experience.
“(We) thought this would be a great way to give great candidates opportunities to fill our local and regional driving positions,” says Stan Hampton, vice president of corporate driver personnel at J.B. Hunt.
Initial feedback has been positive, with field operators praising the Hunt’s Heroes candidates.
“They are attentive, professional, and handle the on-boarding and training aspects of the jobs better than non-military candidates and remain focused on safety,” Hampton says.
The program is the latest in a long list of veteran-friendly initiatives J.B. Hunt has launched. Nearly one in five J.B. Hunt drivers are veterans, filling positions in Dedicated Contract Services as well as the Intermodal unit, with more than 2,000 veterans working company-wide.
For eight consecutive years, J.B. Hunt has been ranked by G.I. Jobs Magazine among the top 100 military-friendly employers, and in 2012 and 2013, J.B. Hunt made the top 10 list.
Veterans like Harris, Stoufer, and Matson say they are appreciative of the Hunt’s Heroes program.
“They’re giving guys a chance,” says Harris, who drove tanker trucks for the United States Army before leaving the service in March 2013 and returning to his home in Killeen, Texas.
Harris had searched for jobs elsewhere, but he was surprised when he called a Hunt’s Heroes recruiter and was enrolled in J.B. Hunt’s Military Finisher school a few days later.
“A normal trucking company wouldn’t look twice at you because you don’t have any (commercial) experience, but at J.B. Hunt, they look at you as a soldier,” Harris says. “They know you’ve got your bearings and are (quick) to learn and easy to teach. … It’s a stellar company.”
Sidebar: From soldier to trucker
Matson always knew he would end up in the military. His father, his grandfather, and his uncle were combat vets, and joining the service was almost a family tradition.
Matson spent 2004-2008 in active duty with the Nevada National Guard before he separated from active duty and joined the Texas National Guard part-time. In January, he added a new accomplishment to his work roster — he signed on as an intermodal driver for J.B. Hunt.
He had spent a decade driving trucks for the Army, so when he left active duty, he decided to look for a job in the trucking industry. He posted a mass application with Truckers’ Report and then waited for the phone to ring. J.B. Hunt recruiter Mike Bush made the call, and by the time he finished telling Matson about the Hunt’s Heroes program, Matson was sold on the program, as well as the company.
When I walk in the office, I’m cheery-eyed and smiling. I use ‘sir,’ ‘ma’am,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you.’ I’ve been able to get loaded and unloaded a whole lot faster, because I go in there with that level of respect and communicate in a clean, professional manner. ~ Joshua Matson, driver
Hunt’s Heroes offers Class-A driving positions for current members of the military and veterans who have been discharged from active duty within the past three years. Applicants can use their G.I. Bill to attend J.B. Hunt’s Military Finisher program, which provides 40 to 160 hours of training at approved schools and pays room, board, and daily wages while they are in the classroom.
Unlike other companies, J.B. Hunt was willing to accept Matson’s driving experience in the Army as DOT verifiable experience, even though he had little professional driving experience in the civilian world. Another advantage was the higher pay rate he was offered.
Matson took a refresher course at SAGE truck driving school in New York State and signed on with the company in January 2014 as one of the early Hunt’s Heroes recruits.
“I was not only getting paid a lot higher than other soldiers in other companies in the same situation, but I was also looked at differently as someone that had experience,” Matson says.
His Sunday-through-Thursday route takes him between 2,000 and 2,400 miles per week from his home in Killeen, Texas, throughout the Lone Star State and Oklahoma. The transition was smooth, Matson says, but he had to get used to the difference in how things work in the civilian world versus the military world.
The biggest adjustment was the change in levels of responsibility. As an Army supervisor, Matson was used to giving orders and taking charge of rapidly changing situations. Now, his main responsibility is to deliver his loads on time and safely.
A lot of people I meet are very grateful. They say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and I don’t have any way of responding back but to say, ‘No, thank you.’ It’s a service I did for the country. ~ Joshua Matson, driver
“That’s easy,” he says. When he arrived at J.B. Hunt, he brought along the same communication skills and work ethic that made his Army career successful. He steers clear of negativity, maintaining a positive attitude with customers as well as other drivers.
“When I walk in the office, I’m cheery-eyed and smiling,” Matson says. “I use ‘sir,’ ‘ma’am,’ ‘please,’ ‘thank you.’ I’ve been able to get loaded and unloaded a whole lot faster, because I go in there with that level of respect and communicate in a clean, professional manner.”
He gives the same advice to other truckers.
Thank you for your service,’ and I don’t have any way of responding back but to say, ‘No, thank you.’ It’s a service I did for the country.”
“Just take it one day at a time,” he says. “Try to be as courteous and professional as you can possibly be. It doesn’t matter if you’re late or early; if you push them, nothing’s going to happen. You’ve got to have a level of respect for everyone around you.”
In turn, Matson says he’s treated with respect, especially when people see his Army hat and realize he’s a veteran.
There’s no place I’d rather be than behind the wheel of a J.B. Hunt truck. Whenever I meet other soldiers in the process of getting out, I tell them about the Hunt’s Heroes program. ~ Joshua Matson, driver
“A lot of people I meet are very grateful,” he says. “They say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and I don’t have any way of responding back but to say, ‘No, thank you.’ It’s a service I did for the country.”
Fridays and Saturdays find Matson at home with his family or at the stadium, watching his second-oldest son play football for the Texas Youth Association. His flexible work schedule makes that possible, he says, and he wants to spread the word about the Hunt’s Heroes program.
It’s in his nature to serve and passing the word on to others is just one more way to connect with fellow patriots. “There’s no place I’d rather be than behind the wheel of a J.B. Hunt truck. Whenever I meet other soldiers in the process of getting out, I tell them about the Hunt’s Heroes program,” Matson says. He’s proud of his work and willing to reach out to others in transition. “It’s an opportunity to work hard and still have time to spend with your family. The best of all worlds.”•