Do you have the right stuff to be a flatbed trucker? There's only one way to find out, but if you're a military veteran, your skills might be a natural fit for this hands-on, heads-up brand of trucking.
To be fair, trucking has long been viewed as a viable career option for military veterans returning to civilian life after active duty. And veterans with a military commercial driver's license (CDL) are particularly well suited for flatbed truck driving jobs. These individuals already possess the basic knowledge and abilities needed to operate large vehicles, and many have experience properly securing and safely transporting cargo.
There's never been a better time for vets to seriously consider a flatbed trucking career. An ongoing truck driver shortage is keeping demand high for flatbed trucking companies across the industry, and more than 500,000 veterans were jobless in 2020. Veteran unemployment hit 6.5% last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic seen as playing a significant role.
About one in 10 employed veterans hold jobs in the transportation and material moving occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and many trucking companies are offering incentives to get even more vets behind the wheel.
If you're a veteran thinking about pursuing a career in trucking, don't discount the parallels. Here are five distinct ways military experience prepares you for flatbed trucking.
Military operations are planned down to the last detail, and timing is everything. Clockwork predictability keeps everything moving in the armed forces—it's also the key to a successful transportation and logistics business.
Many veterans with active duty service under their belts have seen firsthand how coordinated teams work in unison to accomplish objectives. For the military to run like a well-oiled machine, equipment must be correctly loaded, routes carefully planned and shipments delivered on time. The next chink in the supply chain literally depends on it.
Flatbed trucking operates on the same principles. There's a command center that provides logistical support to drivers in the field. A shared focus on efficiency, speed, dependability and punctuality ensures that freight is always moving and arriving at its destination on schedule.
In the military—and in trucking—there's nothing worse than running behind or holding others up. Vets have a reputation for reliability, and that makes them great candidates for flatbed truck driving.
Soldiers don't just have a special bond with each other—they have a unique familiarity with their personal gear and the military equipment they've been trained to operate.
Vets with experience securing loads for transport are often ideal candidates for flatbed trucking jobs. They understand the fundamentals of weight distribution, load securement and tarping, which is what separates flatbedders from other truckers.
Ryan Harmon, who's been driving for JLE since July 2020, says his military experience prepared him for a trucking career. He fueled trucks, tanks and aircraft in the U.S. Marine Corps for 11 years before entering the civilian workforce. Now a fueler in the Air National Guard, Ryan says his technical know-how and can-do attitude serve him well as a flatbedder.
"When you're securing gear, you're going to figure out how to make it stay on your truck," he says. "I have a load I'm picking up Friday—it's machine parts. I've never had to strap or tarp machine parts, but we'll figure it out."
Real-time communication and logistical support is another hallmark of the military—and flatbed trucking. Both have a base that keeps their field personnel informed and focused on the mission at hand.
Veterans have a special respect for the chain of command and appreciate the open lines of communication. Ryan says he's in daily contact with his JLE fleet manager and has built a strong rapport based on trust and honesty. He knows he has permission to speak freely and can always ask for help.
From fixing a broken fuel gauge on his leased Freightliner to lining up the week's loads to assistance with regulations in different states, Ryan says his fleet manager is a priceless resource. Regular situational reports on shippers and freight, as well as traffic and weather conditions, keep him on the road and earning top dollar.
The rules of conduct and engagement provide a foundation for how members of the military interact with each other, perform their jobs and keep each other safe. In flatbed trucking, there are similar guidelines to promote good decision making and safety mindedness.
Operating large vehicles and hauling tens of thousands of pounds of cargo is a dangerous business. Safety procedures may sometimes seem like a burden, but they're in place to prevent injuries and deaths. Vets and truckers understand the importance of being vigilant and often share a "you can never be too careful" mindset.
Ryan, who has witnessed accidents during active-duty deployments and on highways, says complacency is the real enemy. He leans on reference manuals and his fleet manager for help with safety regulations. Western states, for example, require drivers to chain their tires differently, and those who don't could get ticketed.
"I check stuff every time I stop," he says. "I'm not taking any chances."
There are plenty of tangible military skills that carry over to trucking, but most vets also have an instinct that will serve them well as a flatbed truck driver.
Often referred to as situational awareness, this intrinsic ability is about more than knowing your surroundings and remaining alert. It's about being able to adapt to challenges and unfamiliar circumstances. It's about trying different strategies to solve problems. And it's about reacting quickly and decisively when necessary.
The routes, freight and challenges are always changing, but the mental toughness, optimism and self-reliance taught in the Marines remains constant, Ryan says, noting that vets work well in a team environment or on their own.
"The military made it a lot easier being a trucker," he says. "You're used to being by yourself at times. And the military teaches you to overcome and adapt to any situation. You look at it and just realize you were trained for this."
The military-truck driving connection has a rich history that's been mutually beneficial for both sides. JLE is among the country's top veteran-friendly trucking companies, and our veteran truck-driving jobs pay well. About 15% of our drivers are veterans, and we're always looking to add more. Apply now and join a fleet of flatbedders with the right stuff!