Making the Transition: After Serving 28 Years in the Army, Truck Driver is Working his Dream Job
If you’ve put any time at all into any of the branches of the Armed Forces, then you know that it’s more than a career. It’s a lifestyle, with its own culture, its own rules, and its own way of doing things.
So making the transition from the world of the military to the day-to-day life of a civilian can be somewhat jarring. Especially if you’ve spent the better part of your life – such as the last 28 years – in the military.
Enter Scott Smitherman, 53, from Alexandria, Alabama, who served for our country in the U.S. Army, most recently in Recruiting Operations, and previously as a trainer.
Today, seven months after earning his CDL, Smitherman is among the rank of Transport America drivers, where he brings his strength as a trainer of soldiers to the training of truck drivers.
Smitherman joined Transport America through the company’s new Military Apprenticeship Program. The Apprenticeship Program turns natural born leaders into the safest, most dependable drivers on the road today. With the best hands-on training, generous compensation and the ability to take full advantage of the GI Bill for additional pay the company’s military apprenticeship program assists former military (of all ranks) in their transition to becoming a Transport America driver.
To Smitherman, it’s a dream come true, especially as he wondered how he was going to make the transition into civilian life.
“Since I was a little boy, I’ve dreamed of being a truck driver,” he said. “Now, here I am, putting my knowledge to work of how to train people to get the job done with my dream of driving trucks. I’m so grateful.”
Like many drivers, Smitherman was influenced by a relative who drove. His Uncle Ed, an over-the-road truck driver, would let me ride with him for days and sometimes weeks during the summer as he crisscrossed the country delivering loads as an owner-operator.
One of the biggest challenges of shifting into a new career is understanding what’s expected of you, and how things work.
“It’s been an adjustment,” said Smitherman. “I have found that I need to be more flexible in civilian life because my days are not as structured as they were in the military.”
“However,” he added, “I really like the job and the freedom I have now. I love being somewhere different every day, and enjoy being the captain of my own ship. I find myself appreciating the small things now. In the military, I never slowed down to appreciate the world around me.”
Reflecting on his life in the military, Smitherman said: “Just a few months ago, a job was always mandatory whether I wanted to do it or not. But it’s different now. Because driving is something I want to do — not something I must do – it almost doesn’t even feel like I’m working.”
As Smitherman is becoming more familiar with the life of a professional truck driver, he sees some similarities between the culture of Transport America and the culture of the Army.
“I was never called by my first name in the military, but we still built a family. We depended on each other and we helped each other,” Smitherman said. “At Transport America, I feel like I’m building a family, too. And everyone is using my first name. Sometimes, it seems like my fleet leader knows what I need before I do. And everyone, from fellow drivers up to corporate, has my best interests in mind.”
Training and Driving
Smitherman drove all kinds of vehicles in the military, and now helps train drivers new to Transport America’s fleet.
“The key to good training is trust,” he said. “When you gain a trainee’s trust, you’ll be on the same page and can help them learn better.”
“I think the biggest thing we can do is reinforce training and safety in orientation. It’s important that new drivers are looking down the road, instead of just right in front of the hood. It’s about anticipating what’s next.”
Being former military, Smitherman is excited to meet and train other former members of the military. He hopes to help them make the transition into civilian-truck driver life easier by drawing from his own experiences.
“I’m glad Transport America is military-friendly and the company is willing to assist former military in their transitions,” he said.
According to Smitherman, the most important part of a truck drivers success is having a strong support system at home while the driver is out on the road.
“You need to be happy and stable in all areas of your life,” he said. “You can’t be distracted by lots of phone calls all day. That’s very dangerous. You need to have a strong partner at the home base while you’re out on the road.”
Smitherman mentioned his own support system at home in Alexandria: his wife, Dina, and two adult children Nathan and Kayleigh.
“Everyone has to buy into the lifestyle,” he admitted. “The whole family. For us, it works.”
Scott Smitherman is building his new career after a long service to his country, and he is confident that he’ll be behind the wheel of his truck for a long time.
“I don’t want to go back to an office. I love hands-on work like truck driving,” Smitherman said. “In terms of hopes and dreams, I’m sitting right where I want to be.”