Old Glory plays many roles in the lives of service members. It flies in front of their homes, adorns their uniforms and, for some, drapes their caskets when they are killed in the line of duty. The families left holding the flag after it is folded into a triangle face not only sorrow for their lost loved one, but uncertainty about their futures.
Folds of Honor, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to spouses and children of those who were killed or injured during military service, works to ensure that paying for education is one less thing those families must worry about.
In June 2019, Tri-State Motor Transit Co. celebrated its sponsorship of the organization by unveiling a custom-wrapped truck dedicated to Folds of Honor.
“They have a very powerful message. It’s to honor their sacrifice and educate their legacy,” said Ken Armstrong, co-driver of the truck. “I’m very proud to represent Folds of Honor because of the good that they do in helping the spouses and children of America’s fallen.”
Lt. Col Dan Rooney, a PGA professional and F-16 fighter pilot with the Air Force Reserve, was inspired to start the organization after returning home from his second tour of duty in Iraq, the Folds of Honor website states. As Rooney’s flight landed on American soil, the pilot told passengers that the plane was carrying the remains of Cpl. Brock Bucklin, and asked that they remain seated while his casket was carried from the plane.
Through his airplane window, Rooney watched Bucklin’s twin brother walk with the casket to meet the family, including Bucklin’s young son. Bucklin felt called to pay tribute to service members and their families, and teach civilians about the sacrifices made by military families, the website continues.
Since Rooney founded Folds of Honor in 2007, the organization has awarded about 24,500 educational scholarships in all 50 states, as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, Australia, the Philippines and Italy, the website states, adding that, on average, 89% of each dollar raised goes to the scholarship program.
“They’re a very reputable charity,” Armstrong said. “They say what they mean. They do what they say. I just think they’re a great, worthwhile cause for anybody to get involved with.”
The one-of-a-kind wrap includes information about the organization’s mission, as well as its symbol — an American flag folded into a triangle. On the passenger side of the cab is a woman holding a flag to her chest; on the driver side are small hands touching a flag.
Tri-State paid about $10,000 for the wrap, Armstrong said. The truck itself is a 2020 Kenworth T680 with a Cummins engine. It’s the first Kenworth Armstrong has driven during his nearly 20-year driving career. He said people often stop to take pictures of the design and talk about Folds of Honor while he is on the road.
“Every week, we get people making comments about the truck, whether they’re fellow drivers, whether they’re drivers from other companies, whether it’s even military or law enforcement,” he said. “They’re always making comments about the truck, and it’s really benefited not just Tri-State, but especially Folds of Honor.”
Armstrong met a young woman who was personally affected by Folds of Honor in August 2019, when Tri-State displayed the truck at the Great American Truck Show in Dallas. The organization provided her with a scholarship to complete her degree after her father was killed in Afghanistan.
“You can just see what goes on in the minds of a family after they lose a loved one overseas,” Armstrong said. “She spoke very positively of the whole Folds of Honor [organization] and how they stepped forward to help her achieve her dreams.”
The sacrifices of service members and their families are a reality for Armstrong and his original co-driver of the truck, Ken Williams — both are military veterans. Armstrong’s new co-driver, Steven Caudill, who joined the company in June, is also a veteran.
“One of the prime reasons that we were assigned to this truck is because we are veterans, and we professionally represent not only our employer, but Folds of Honor,” Armstrong said.
Professionalism and safety are key to Armstrong, who said he works to keep the truck as clean as possible while on the road. The truck and its drivers have made a positive impression on Tri-State’s customers, he added.
“Our customers just love this truck, whether they’re military or government or just commercial,” he said. “They really love this truck and what it represents. They’ve contacted our company to talk about us, or talk about the truck, or both us and the truck, because we really take [our work] seriously.”
Every time Armstrong and Caudill meet a customer, they say the most important words a driver can say: “Thank you. We appreciate your business,” Armstrong noted.
Armstrong said he also takes pride in his professional appearance. Even before he joined Tri-State and was assigned to the Folds of Honor truck, he began ordering custom-made work shirts from the Joplin 44 Petro and the Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott. Every shirt is embroidered with the American flag.
“Customers really appreciate that,” he said. “They like a professionally dressed, clean, well-groomed driver.”
Just as he seeks to represent his company in a courteous, professional manner, trucking companies must put their best foot forward when representing the industry, he added.
“What I really love about Tri-State is that they are very proactive in presenting a positive image, not just about themselves, but also about worthy causes like Folds of Honor … and projecting a positive image for the trucking industry in general,” he said. “They’re very proactive, and I like that.”
Sarah DeClerk is a multiskilled journalist who specializes in features writing. She has written articles for The Trucker, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Flag and Banner’s Brave magazine and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Forum. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication from UA-Little Rock in 2013. She has been a board member of the Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists since 2017 and currently serves as chapter president. Her interests include hiking, traveling and the arts.