Feature: Dale Earnhardt, Jr: A Driving Force Behind New Drive The Guard Program
October 21, 2010
Last month, we previewed The National Guard’s new Drive The Guard initiative, an enlistment option offered to new recruits who are interested in obtaining their commercial driver’s license (CDL) while performing regular duties in the National Guard, and predicted it may provide a solution to ease the driver shortage. Now NASCAR’s biggest star is onboard to offer his assistance for a program that will benefit both the trucking industry and the nation’s military.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed his support by featuring a new National Guard “Drive the Guard”/AMP Energy paint scheme on his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in August’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt explained his passion for this program at a special press conference two days before the Carfax 400.
“The trucking industry is a huge part of our sport, and I think it’s important to highlight this profession,” Earnhardt said. “The National Guard has partnered with the trucking industry to give Army Guard members the opportunity to attend a truck driving school within their state and assist in obtaining a pre-hire letter with a reputable carrier after graduation. This is an awesome opportunity the National Guard is providing.”
Michigan was chosen as the backdrop for the press conference because the state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, which is a trait shared the National Guard, according to Col. Robert Porter, the Chief of the Guard Strength Directorate. Porter see many advantages to the Drive The Guard program versus similar programs the National Guard offers for employers such as Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot. “One big advantage of Drive The Guard is the soldier does not have to relocate,” Porter said. The program allows National Guard Soldiers the chance to earn a monthly paycheck while attending an approved CDL training school in a location convenient to their residence. Upon graduation, the program will help Soldiers find a full-time job with a reputable trucking company while still serving part-time in the National Guard.
Porter views Drive The Guard as a “win-win” for the National Guard and the trucking companies who participate. “We’re looking for the same population, and we provide those fleets with a drug tested and disciplined soldier,” Porter said. Lt. Col. Ron Walls, chief of the Army National Guard’s Strength Maintenance Division, concurs with Porter. “The end result is you have an Army National Guard drilling Soldier who is duty-MOS (military occupational specialty) qualified and also has a full-time job,” Walls stated.
Mike O’Connell, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, thinks Drive the Guard is a win-win like few things in life. “The trucking industry is a winner because it is able to recruit well qualified, physically fit and drug free candidates as drivers. The Guardsman win because they are able to secure relative l high paying employment (often with benefits) that is available without the need for them to relocate,” O’Connell stated. “Furthermore, because of the driver shortage their employment is secure and it can never be outsourced.”
As the driver shortage deepens, the trucking industry will need more and more well qualified candidates for driving positions. Being able to recruit them from among the national guard not only helps to solve this problem, but helps the Soldiers that are dedicated to serving our country. It may also allow National Guard to follow the often repeated pattern of moving from driver to owner operator, thus owning their own businesses.
There are even opportunities within our industry for husbands and wives to become driver teams.
Porter said the National Guard’s goal for the program is to enroll “as many as possible”, and several hundred soldiers have signed up for the new already. He hopes the racing tie-in will help, and realizes that NASCAR has a long history with our nation’s military. One of Earnhardt Jr.’s sponsors early in his career was the US Navy, and he spoke about it at the National Guard’s Mobile Recruiting Display prior to the race. “I had an uncle on my mom’s side of the family who was in the Navy, so that was always important to him,” Earnhardt stated. Dale Jr. said he felt a similar sense of pride when he learned he would be driving for the National Guard. “I know there is more responsibility on my shoulders, so I try to represent myself well on the track and in my personal life,” he added.
Dale Jr. was very personable and appreciative of the military serviced provided by several of the local Drive The Guard participants in attendance. “I had a good friend who was deployed that recently returned,” Earnhardt stated. “I just hope this Drive The Guard paint scheme will raise awareness for the program.”
Earnhardt started the race in 38th position, but would battle his way up to a 19th place finish despite some mechanical issues. There are always obstacles to a first place finish in NASCAR, but it is much easier to apply for the Drive The Guard program. In order to qualify, a Soldier must have a valid driver’s license, be a U.S. citizen, pass a physical exam and be able to meet the moral and legal standards that are required to enlist in the National Guard. Along with these requirements, the Soldiers must have completed basic and advanced training, be at least 21 years of age and have a qualifying safe driving record set forth by the National DMV Regulatory Guidance.
Sgt. John Chapman, a National Guard career counselor based in Jackson, MI., briefs several units about the Drive The Guard program. “Lot of guys are leaving the Guard because they are unemployed, but when you get them work, there are two programs putting food on the table,” Chapman stated. Soldiers do not like debt that cannot be paid back, and Chapman said their initial response is met with reluctance because of the complexity of how the tuition is paid. When he explains they have funding available from the government, states, or fleets (via tuition reimbursement), he said he is “bombarded” with interest. “Depending on where they live, we give them a career path to shoot for,” Chapman said. The program is gaining momentum, and Chapman said the key will be soldier success stories.
Erin Beck, a student advisor, for International Trucking School in Holt, MI, just enrolled her first batch of Drive The Guard students, and works closely with them on placement. “I like to see all of my students be successful, so I encourage them to take their training and use it to start making money immediately,” Beck said. There are several fleets that are “National Guard friendly”, and Beck says she gives each student a list and coaches them on questions to ask a trucking company recruiter. “I like to see my students set up a job before they leave class,” Beck added.
The Drive the Guard program was developed from a previous initiative the National Guard established that provided deploying units with qualified and trained truck drivers. The program also enabled Soldiers with MOS licenses to obtain their civilian commercial license. The National Guard is a military branch—America’s oldest—that serves both state and federal governments. The major difference between the Guard and other branches is that while Guard units are combat-trained and can be deployed overseas (depending on your unit and your job), Guard Soldiers are just as likely to serve in their home communities. National Guard Soldiers are referred to as Citizen-Soldiers because most Soldiers serve part-time and hold a civilian job, while still receiving all the benefits and rewards the military has to offer. To learn more, please visit www.NATIONALGUARD.com/DRIVETHEGUARD. You can also sign up for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fan club and see behind-the-scenes videos by visiting www.DALEJRGUARDGARAGE.com. •