Teamster Hero


Every day in every part of the country, Teamsters do heroic deeds, but Jerry Winkler’s story and that of his fellow airmen is extraordinary.

Winkler, who serves in the Air Force Reserves, is a member of Local 416 in Cleveland. He works for a contractor as a “switcher,” responsible for moving tractor-trailer rigs around the Ford Cleveland Engine Plant 1 in Brook Park, Ohio. He has worked at the plant since October 2011.

Winkler served in the Army during the first Gulf War in 1991, and was deployed by the Reserves from May 2 to Sept. 15, 2014. He serves as a jet engine mechanic on C-130 Hercules transport planes. During the recent deployment, his 110-airman unit, the 910th Maintenance Group, provided support to various military installations in southwest Asia.

Saving Lives

It was the group’s work in Iraq that is noteworthy. In the Mt. Sinjar area of Iraq, Winkler and his fellow airmen helped deliver tons of food, water and other supplies to the Yazidis, a Kurdish community. They also provided security for the Yazidis against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and helped remove refugees from areas where they would be killed by ISIS. In Amiril, Iraq, the unit provided food, water and weapons to the Kurds to halt the advance of ISIS.

Winkler said they were told his unit helped save countless lives.

“We were glad that we could provide what they needed and move them to a safe place where they didn’t have to be hunted down by ISIS,” Winkler said. “I can’t believe what we were involved with. We were just in the right place at the right time.”

Still, the experience was difficult for Winkler, the father of two boys, 6 and 2.

“It was hard knowing we could only do so much for them,” Winkler said.

Job Well Done

For the missions the unit flew into Iraq and Afghanistan, it was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal by President Obama. The unit was also awarded a Humanitarian Aid Ribbon by the Reserves.

Winkler was also promoted to Staff Sergeant during his deployment.

The experience taught Winkler that no matter how difficult life is in the United States, “life over here isn’t all that bad.”

Sonny Nardi, Local 416 President, praised Winkler’s actions.

“I’m so proud I get chills thinking about how these guys go over there and put their lives on the line,” Nardi said. “I’m proud to have him as a member of Local 416.”

Winkler said coming home from such an incredible mission was intense.

“It was an awesome sight to see my boys when I got home,” he said. “It was good to see their faces and knowing they are all right.”

Winkler said he still follows the news from the region and the refugees’ ongoing ordeals.

“It still brings tears to my eyes,” Winkler said.


The Teamsters, the U.S. Army and ABF Trucking formally entered into a partnership recently which provides commercial drivers’ license (CDL) training for military personnel transitioning to civilian life.

Teamsters, through the Teamsters Military Assistance Program (TMAP), have been assisting veterans in obtaining careers in the transportation industry for years.

Now the union, along with Soldier For Life, ABF Freight, Ft. Sill, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, is beginning the first pilot program for CDLs for active military members.

“Since the earliest days of the union, Teamster members have served in the armed forces, raised money for victory bonds and found countless other ways to support the military,” said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President.

Ft. Sill in Lawton, Okla., is the first base where the CDL training will occur. Already under way, there are 12 participants in the program. Training consists of classroom-style instruction as well as behind-the-wheel practical experience. Training will take six weeks and will be repeated throughout the year.

“Employers tell us time and again about the benefit of hiring military veterans,” said Tyson Johnson, Director of the Freight Division.

“Veterans are disciplined, committed employees. They are often found to be model employees. We believe they will be assets to America’s transportation industry,” said Gordon Sweeton, Assistant Director of the Freight Division.

Once the CDL is earned by a participant, the union and ABF Freight will provide job placement assistance within the nationwide ABF Freight network. To find out more about the program, email TMAP@teamster.org.