Savannah Technical College has expanded its “troops to trucks” program.
The program, started in November 2012 by the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, helps Georgia’s returning veterans fill high-demand jobs like emergency medical technicians, welders and truckers, STC’s military outreach coordinator Jeff Ashmen said.
Ashmen said the GOWD program is backed by Georgia’s Department of Driver Services, which helps already trained active-duty soldiers who have two years’ truck-driving experience. The program “fast-tracks” soldiers into a civilian trucking career by allowing them to take the state’s commercial driver’s license test.
“The original program helped military truck drivers who were pending separation within 90 days,” Ashmen said. “There are restrictions with that program, including equivalent licensing for the weight classification of the vehicles they drove in the military. Also, many military vehicles have air brakes and automatic transmissions, which also restrict the license because they haven’t driven trucks with a different braking system or those with standard transmissions.
“The expanded program helps soldiers and veterans with no military driver’s training receive driver’s training through a seven-week course taught at Savannah Tech’s Liberty and Effingham county campuses,” he continued. “I see a lot of veterans attending classes at Savannah Tech, which tells me they’re waiting until after they separate from the service to decide what they want to do. So we’ve expanded what I call the ‘troops to trucks’ program by helping vets without formal military driver’s training as well as those interested in removing the restrictions on their license.”
Ashmen said Savannah Tech is promoting the expanded program for its availability of day, night and weekend classes. STC partners with local trucking companies, which offer students jobs after they complete the course and passing the state’s commercial truck driver’s license test.
Hinesville’s classes are taught behind Savannah Tech on the old airport runway near Liberty College & Career Academy. One of the students taking the current class is Staff Sgt. Donald Dunn. He is retiring next month and already has been offered a job with Schneider International. Their recruiter came to the Hinesville training site to meet Dunn and other students.
“In the Army, I was a mechanic, but I think it’s more beneficial for me to be a driver,” Dunn said. “I think if you get a restricted license based on what you drove in the Army and don’t have the training to drive civilian trucks, you’re going to have a harder time finding a job or getting experience driving these trucks. Some have eight- to 10-speed transmissions.”
Dunn said he had a choice of three types of driving jobs with Schneider — local, regional and over-the-road. He chose over-the-road, which means he’ll make long-distance runs for five weeks, and then be home for five days.
Not all students in the current class are looking for work. First Sgt. Jason Christner said he retired about three years ago and currently works as a government employee on Fort Stewart as a range-system repair work leader. The former cavalry scout said he’s taking the class as part of pre-conditions for his employment. The Iowa native drove 18-wheelers on his family’s farm and also has earned an offshore pilots license.
Instructor Fred Zobrist said the class is divided into three phases, including six days of classroom instruction, in which students learn all the required safety information; seven days of basic control skills, in which students learn to maneuver a big truck in a controlled environment; and 17 days of on-the-road training.
After the class is over, he said Savannah Tech is authorized by the state to conduct the CTDL test.
Ashmen said registration for the fall semester begins Aug. 1 with classes beginning Aug. 25. He said veterans don’t have to use their GI Bill benefits to take the class and can qualify for assistance through grants.
For more information, call 408-3025, ext. 6000 or 6007.