This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri August 23rd, 2017
One of the AIT (Advanced Individual Training) courses at Fort Leonard Wood is 88M Motor Transport Operator, i.e. “Truck Driver”. If you’re a truck junky and your day doesn’t start until you climb in the cab and light up that big diesel, this is the Army job for you. It is one of the easiest AIT’s, consisting of seven weeks of training, plus one week of administrative stuff. Unless you already have a Class A CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and two years’ experience driving 80,000 pound tractor trailers then the training is only four weeks, after basic, then you are promoted to Specialist E4 upon completion of the four weeks. It is also one of the easiest jobs to get in the Army. If you want to get in the Army fast, if you just want to get in and not wait a year for a slot as a Satellite Communication Systems Operator Maintainer, and you don’t want to go into the Infantry, you can almost always get in as a truck driver. The ASVAB requirement is not high, a score of 85 in the OF (Operator – Food) area, which is comprised of four parts of the ASVAB, Verbal Expression (word knowledge and paragraph comprehension), Numerical Operations (very simple math), Auto and Shop Information, and Mechanical Comprehension.
The Army has a gazillion 88M’s, and it will always need more. They are everywhere all over the world in every type of unit. The type of job a soldier has as an 88M depends entirely on the unit. If a man or woman enlists as an 88M, they could end up hauling mail and supplies in Germany or Hawaii, or hauling tanks at Fort Bliss, Texas, or pulling maintenance and weeds in the motor pool at Fort Leonard Wood. If they enlist with an airborne option, they have a 90 percent chance of going to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, about a 10 percent chance of going to Vicenza, Italy or Anchorage, Alaska. The 88M’s do not usually drive Humvees, unit soldiers drive those, the 88M’s drive 5 tons and above. Driving a truck in the Army can be a great job, it can be a boring job, it can be a very busy job, and in combat it can be a very dangerous job.
A former Army truck driver had this to say; “Imagine yourself in the cab of a truck bouncing along a highway in Iraq. Palm trees and dun-colored houses whiz past. Children run out to beg. Men in white dishdashas and red headscarves with hostile faces watch you pass. You swerve to miss a donkey carcass; it could be booby-trapped. Suddenly, a familiar sound: the pop, pop, pop of machine-gun fire. You hope the soldiers in the Humvees escorting your convoy shoot back. You pray the flak vest you’re wearing stops an AK round, because the truck you’re driving is not armored. Above all, you tell yourself, “Don’t stop.” There are bad guys out there who want to pull you out and cut off your head. Then suddenly there’s a sharp concussion, black smoke, chaos. An IED on the left side of the road. You say a quick prayer and you move on. It’s another day on the job for a truck driver in Iraq. In Afghanistan, First Lieutenant Ben Keating did not want to ask a driver to drive over a narrow and unstable mountain road to haul supplies to a new outpost, so he drove the truck himself. The road gave away, the truck rolled down the mountain, and 1LT Ben Keating was wedged in rocks where he died. Combat Outpost Keating was named for him. Two Medals of Honor were awarded when the Taliban tried to overrun COP Keating. That is described in the book “Outpost”, by Jake Tapper, which is a 600 page gripping, detailed, fascinating, hold-you-to-the-page account of a terrible story. If you are a line grunt, in a unit that has been in the field so many days that you’ve lost count, and you’re facing a 10 or 20K walk back to camp and trucks arrive, they are treated like hero’s. An Infantry Brigade Combat Team consists of seven battalions counting the Brigade Support Battalion, which includes the Brigade Headquarters Company, There are three Infantry Battalions, a Cavalry Squadron (Reconnaissance), a Fires Battalion (Artillery), and an Engineer Battalion which has two Combat Engineer Companies, a Military Intelligence Company and a Signal Company. Infantry, Cavalry, Fires, and Engineer Battalions each have a Forward Support Company attached. Each Forward Support Company has about 20 88M’s and ten trucks. The Distribution Company in the Brigade Support Battalion has about 10 88M’s and six trucks. So there are around 150 88M’s dedicated to driving a truck, in a brigade. I have read that in many places in the Army truck drivers are called “POG’s” along with all other POG’s (Person Other than a Grunt). We had a different name for rear echelon people when I was in the Army (can’t put it in print), but we didn’t include the truck drivers who picked us up in the field. The slurs to anyone not a grunt are not as prevalent in airborne units, because everyone jumps out of airplanes, so the pride of being airborne transcends the petty bickering and jealousies found in other units.
If a person enlists for MOS 88M, they get trained and awarded the MOS 88M. Where they get assigned, in the world, is according to the needs of the Army. If they get the airborne option, there is a 90 percent chance of them going to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
After basic combat training, at Fort Leonard Wood, they move a couple blocks down the street to new barracks that are more like hotels. There are three bunks in a room, a stacked double and a single. Each room has its own bath and shower and closets instead of wall lockers. There are usually more males than females, so the females often have only two people to a room. There are modern laundry rooms on every floor. There are usually two or three days of waiting until the company is full, before training starts. First call (wake up) is 04:30, then PT (physical training) at 06:00. The course may be fairly easy, but the PT is not. An initial PT test is given the first week. Anyone who fails the PT test gets remedial PT in the evenings, and some companies have full PT twice a day. The PT test (pushups, situps, and two mile run) is in the process of being changed. With the introduction of gender neutral army jobs, there is extra emphasis on physical fitness. So, the message is get in shape in basic and stay that way. Everyone is issued a little red book, which is how to PMCS (Preventive Maintenance Checks and Service) the vehicle each time before, during and after operation. PMCS is a term that becomes imbedded in the mind of every driver in the army. There is a check list and a form to complete. You have to clean the vehicle, maintain it, and complete the paperwork. The Army is completely serious about PMCS. I have previously written about an Infantry Battalion Commander and his Executive Officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, who were both relieved of duty because a surprise maintenance inspection found that the battalion vehicles were not being maintained.
Some have written that the first week of training is the hardest, because it is five days of eight hours a day in the classroom, and if caught sleeping the threat is that they will not graduate on time. Hands on and driving training is on “pads”, which are giant concrete and paved areas, out in the woods on Fort Leonard Wood, built specifically for 88M training on specific vehicles. Training is on the 5 ton truck (M1083), the HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) M1120 LHS (Load Handling System), and the M915 standard tractor semi-trailer, plus others. Over a week is spent on the 915 semi. One female soldier said that she just could not back a semi. She went to the PX, bought a toy tractor trailer set and sat on the floor in her room moving them back and forth until the light went on, “If I turn the wheel this way the trailer does that”. She said that the next day she “threaded” the M915 and trailer. Students drive in convoys both day and night, on highways and off road. There is a lot of driving time, and there are always two in the cab. There is a week in the field about halfway through the course. They sleep on cots in tents. As with most jobs in the Army, the real learning happens when the soldier gets to his or her permanent unit.
You don’t get a civilian Class A CDL (Commercial Drivers License) in the Army, but most states have adopted a “troops to truckers” program, which, with the commanders signature, allows a soldier leaving the Army to skip the skills test, and take only the written test to get a Class A CDL.
I have attended graduation ceremonies of 88M’s at Fort Leonard Wood, the sergeants were professional and the students were having fun.
There are a hundred different types of professional truck driving jobs. The people who stay in the seat usually find a particular job that suits them. I remember one lady who hauled household goods, during the summer, for moving companies. She was 35 to 40, had her 9 year old son with her, she was beautifully manicured with her designer jeans and boots. She meticulously checked everything going on and off her trailer, but never touched anything herself, lumpers did that. She said that she just enjoyed the adventure and the freedom. Then there was an older couple from Florida, who hauled household goods. They had a 12 foot long sleeper on their truck. They said that they left home in April and returned in September and that they made enough to just stay home in Florida for the winter.
Soldiers, with MOS 88M, who stay in the Army, advance up the ranks at about the same rate as most other support MOS’s. Sergeants may be senior drivers responsible for their own and one or two other trucks, or they may drive very large or complicated vehicles. Staff Sergeants are Squad or Section Leaders, Material Movement NCO (Non-commissioned Officer) or Transportation NCO. A Sergeant First Class may be a Brigade Motor Sergeant or a Transportation Platoon Sergeant or a Truckmaster which is like an administrative supervisor in a motor pool.