After 15 years of service in the U.S. Army, Staff Sgt. Jerry Pitkin will transition, in his own words, “from one uniform to the next.” Pitkin, who has a family including two daughters, is looking forward to transferring the security and structure of the military into a civilian career as a driver with ABF Freight.
Recently, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa took part in a ceremony recognizing soldiers like Pitkin, the first graduates of a program that helps active military personnel transition to a career in transportation. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to inaugurate the Army’s new Industrial Training Complex (ITC) in Fort Sill, Okla.
“This transition is seamless because the Teamsters, ABF and the Army are partnering. They’ve shown they care about veterans. The impact that this has on soldiers coming out is a tremendous thing,” Pitkin said.
The career training program is a result of a partnership between the Teamsters Military Assistance Program (TMAP), U.S. Army, Fort Sill, ABF Freight, Soldier For Life, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The innovative six-week program provides Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) instruction behind the wheel, as well as in a traditional classroom setting.
The program provides the opportunity for active duty military members to train in the 180 days prior to their separation from the Army. The best candidates for the program are selected by Fort Sill Command to take part in TMAP. Through the program, the service members obtain their CDL and prepare to start a civilian career after their service is completed. The goal is to secure jobs for soldiers prior to leaving the service, so that there is not a gap in employment.
“The men and women who defend and protect our country deserve good, full-time jobs when they return home. I am proud that our union is working in this great partnership to honor our military veterans and help them transition to a rewarding civilian career,” Hoffa said.
“We have a solemn obligation to take care of our veterans. Over the next 10 years, we will transition more than 1 million soldiers back to civilian life. We must provide them with the best opportunities so when they depart the Army they are career ready,” said Col. Glenn Waters, Garrison Commander at Fort Sill.
Michael Yauger, National Director of TMAP, said the ITC is the culmination of years of planning and hard work.
“We made it our mission to get this talented pool of men and women the certification and training they need to be on the path to the American Dream,” Yauger said.
Once the CDL is earned by a participant, the union and ABF Freight provide job placement assistance within the nationwide ABF Freight network. Other transportation providers are expected to join the program in the future. With over 130,000 soldiers transitioning from military service to civilian life annually, this program will help meet a critical need.
Tim Thorne, ABF Freight President, leads a company with 12,000 employees that is adding veterans trained at Fort Sill to its ranks.
“I’m a veteran and I remember feeling lost when I got out of the service. I started out on the dock of a Teamster carrier and worked my way up to president of ABF Freight,” Thorne said. “I’m proud to be the president of a Teamster company.”
Rank and File
Fiona O’Brien was among the first group of a dozen graduates that have completed the TMAP program at Fort Sill. The 16-year Army veteran had been deployed three times to Afghanistan, but when she completed her service, O’Brien needed to think of her next steps.
“It’s hard for many veterans to get out and find a job, to transition from Army to civilian life. This program gives us one less thing to stress about,” said O’Brien, who is now working for ABF Freight in New Jersey.
Specialist Natalie Walker was among the second group to complete the program. Walker has served in the Army for nine years, including a deployment to Kuwait. Walker is excited to start her new job at ABF Freight in Nashville when she leaves the Army in May.
“I’ve driven trucks in the military, but I’ve learned a lot from the instructors here. They’re knowledgeable and helpful. This is an outstanding program and a great opportunity for any soldier to have,” Walker said.
A mother to two teenage sons, Walker said she feels reassured knowing that when she leaves the Army she will be able to provide for them.
“We got a little bit of everything—hands on training, personal experience, classroom instruction,” said Sgt. Jesse Cotton, who already had experience driving standard military heavy duty vehicles and taught other soldiers to drive Humvees. “I’ve really enjoyed being in the program and I’m glad I did it.”
Cotton is looking forward to starting work with ABF Freight in Dallas and participating in the union.
“I didn’t know about the Teamsters before this, but I see that the Teamsters lead the fight for everyday working people’s rights and equality, and I realized this is something I’d like to be a part of,” Cotton said.
Edward Yaneliush had experience driving with a convoy through dangerous territory in Iraq. The soft-spoken Army specialist, originally from Micronesia, finishes his military service in June and will work for ABF Freight in Dallas.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the program. Driving was something I always wanted to do and I was already trying to be a driver before I found out about the program. It’s great that it’s free training,” Yaneliush said.
Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, who works for TMAP, said the TMAP program greatly reduces the time it takes for soldiers to obtain their CDL as compared to pursuing the certification on their own, and the program is at no cost to participants.
“In some areas it can cost $5,000 for a CDL, and that’s money out-of-pocket or from GI benefits that could have ultimately gone to the soldiers to support their families,” Murray-Belcaster said. “The Teamsters are the first to do civilian credentialing for the military, which is historic, and through this process, the Army provides the employer with the best the Army has to offer. That is not something an employer alone could streamline in any space.”
Veterans Join Teamsters in California
Chris Hughes is an Army reservist, a driver at UPS and a Teamster. When Hughes enlisted in the Army in 2006, he didn’t realize that one day the skills he developed while serving his country would transfer over to a job with one of America’s largest companies.
“Before getting the job at UPS, I had no idea how prestigious being a Teamster was. I’d never been in a union before, but you’re joining from one family-oriented organization—the military—to another, the Teamsters Union,” Hughes said. “You’re all ‘one team, one fight,’ as we say in the Army, and that’s one of the things the Teamsters represent that I enjoy.”
Hughes, and many other military men and women, found their new careers at companies like UPS through friends, colleagues and job fairs. However, they were given a closer look thanks to the priority that locals like Teamsters Local 396, under the leadership of Secretary-Treasurer Ron Herrera, place on veterans.
“Companies like UPS have the ability to hire veterans, and in my area the company uses a six-to-one ratio whenever possible to hire one veteran. This was because of a simple ask that I made that veterans be considered for hiring when there is an opening to workers from outside the company,” said Herrera, an International Vice President. “The companies find the candidates themselves that best fit the job and it’s been a tremendous success.”
Covina, Calif.-based Local 396 recognizes veterans at monthly membership meetings, bestowing special Local 396 veteran’s jackets to rank-and-file members of the local in each branch of service.
“I spent four years in the Navy. I went to a job fair and got in touch with someone looking to recruit with UPS, and I got hired. I’m proud to have a Teamster jacket that shows I’m a veteran,” said Viviana Gonzalez, a member of the union since October.
“If you’ve already been in the military, it’s easy to pick up the routine, the chain of command to follow and to get the job done no matter what,” Gonzalez said. “I am thankful to Ron Herrera because his appreciation of veterans is why I have this opportunity.”
Longtime Teamster veterans are also giving back to their union, including Jerome Singletary, a 16-year shop steward with Local 396, who works at Republic Services. Singletary takes part in local activities that help and honor veterans. A fellow Teamster, Eric Brown, also served in the military and knows how hard it can be for veterans to transition into civilian careers.
“When I came out of the military, it was 30 years ago. It’s a very different climate today,” Brown said. “I got a job at UPS one month after getting out of the service. I don’t think it’s that easy today for veterans to get a good union job with living wages to help them take care of their families.”
Thanks to Teamsters honoring our veterans, and working with companies that recognize the value of their skills and training, Teamsters like Gonzalez and Hughes are getting their piece of the American dream.
“UPS embraces my experience,” Hughes said. “My girlfriend’s father has been a Teamster for over 30 years and loves talking about it with me. Now I think he will say someday, ‘You can marry her.’”