Leadership. Discipline. Decisiveness. These are three qualities necessary for a successful military career. Those skills translate well to post-military careers, too. Like trucking.
Ivan Hernandez honed these skills during a 20-year career in the U.S. Army that included four tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Veterans make excellent truck drivers because of the skills they learn in the military,” he said, referring to the three noted above. Today, he’s using those skills to run his own trucking small business — while giving something back to other veterans who are entering the civilian workforce.
In December, it was announced that Hernandez was the winner of the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award as America’s top military rookie driver. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative along with FASTPORT, a veteran employment software company, and Kenworth Truck Company.
As the award winner, Hernandez received a brand-new, fully loaded Kenworth T680 truck, instantly transitioning from company driver to owner-operator. The truck is equipped with the PACCAR MX-13 engine, 12-speed automated PACCAR transmission and 40,000-pound rear axles, and includes a 76-inch sleeper with the Kenworth Driver’s Studio package. “The first time I drove it, it was so smooth that I didn’t realize how fast I was going and had to slow down,” Hernandez said. “It’s like driving a giant Lexus.”
The decision to become a professional driver wasn’t something Hernandez took lightly. As his military retirement date neared, he spent time considering the options. His duty assignment as an adviser for the Saudi Arabia National Guard left him with enough time to explore the possibilities.
“I was able to research what I wanted to do when I got out,” he explained. “I’ve always wanted to drive across the United States.”
Once he was back in the States, Hernandez briefly stayed at a small campground. “A lot of my neighbors were truck drivers or retired drivers,” he recalled. “One that I got to know pretty well told me, ‘You were meant to be a truck driver.’”
Hernandez chose Roadmaster Driving School in Dunn, North Carolina, for his training. “Being a military guy, I liked the way they are organized, and it was a six-week program,” he said.
The choice to join Werner Enterprises wasn’t an accident, either. “I had researched Werner’s ‘Freedom Fleet,’ and then a Werner representative made a presentation at the school,” he related. “I went OTR (over-the-road) right away. I had my passport, and I was ready to travel.”
While Hernandez felt ready for the job, he soon learned something every driver experiences: Safety is vital. “Seeing the number of accidents on the highways was a real shock,” he said. “Safety is my biggest concern, but I learned that you see a lot of accidents on the road.”
Hernandez was determined to continue learning after graduating from CDL school. “I make it a habit to talk to my peers out on the road, especially older guys or drivers with a lot of experience,” he said. “I try to pick their brains about how to better the industry.”
But he didn’t stop there. “I wanted more knowledge, so I signed up for flatbed, but there was a waiting list,” he said. “When they called me, I went to Omaha (Nebraska) for training.”
Hernandez was driving in Werner’s flatbed division when he was nominated for the Transition Trucking award. He was chosen as one of 10 preliminary finalists by a committee comprised of representatives from carriers, training schools, suppliers and trade associations. Judging criteria included safety performance, customer service, work record, military service record, community service and more.
Preliminary finalists were required to submit a video profile, photographs and other information, along with answers to interview questions. Three finalists were selected by public vote on the Transition Trucking website, and then the selection committee determined the winner and two runners-up.
Hernandez was presented the keys to his new Kenworth during an announcement ceremony in Chillicothe, Ohio, where the company has a manufacturing plant.
Owning a truck required yet another transition — and offered another learning opportunity. Hernandez approached the responsibilities of being an owner-operator as a mission, studying and learning as much as possible. “I wasn’t expecting to win. I thank the military for helping me be adaptable,” he noted.
He credits MHC Kenworth in Durham, North Carolina, with helping him prepare for truck ownership. “They’re top-notch,” he said. “They really prepared me for the truck, and they stay in touch for software updates, etc.”
One feature on his new truck that Hernandez had to become familiar with is the Kenworth Idle Management System, which ties the HVAC system in the sleeper to a battery-powered APU. “I’m still learning, but it’s supposed to start the truck when the batteries fall to 50%,” he explained. “I’ve slept overnight and then some with the heat blasting, but I think 73% or so is as drained as the batteries ever got.”
The driver’s seat in the T680 is another difference Hernandez had to learn about. Marketed by Kenworth as “The World’s Best,” the seat offers heating and cooling, micro-damping, auto leveling and memory. “For driving, comfort and safety, Kenworth went above and beyond,” he said.
As for learning the owner-operator side of the business, he said, “I’m still learning, but it’s going well so far. I look at fuel pricing a lot more closely, and the cost of services.”
When he’s not trucking, Hernandez has plenty to keep him busy. “I’m still working on my ‘honey-do’ list,” he said. “I have to thank my wife for putting up with me all these years.”
The couple believes in staying in shape, both physically and mentally. “I actually met her at a yoga class,” Hernandez noted. “I went through resiliency training at Penn State, a part of the positive psychology training the military does to help bring down the suicide curve. She was the instructor.”
He’s committed to helping other veterans transition to life after the military. “I’m working on a series of videos to help veterans with a smooth transition from the military,” he said. “There are about 200,000 that transition every year. I’ve only got one posted so far but I’m working on two others and plan a whole series.”
Hernandez says he’s “very tech savvy” and carries video equipment along on the road. His initial video is posted on his YouTube channel, “Veterans 2 Trucking.”
As if all that’s not enough to keep him busy, Hernandez has also picked up a new hobby. “Believe it or not, I actually picked up kite-surfing in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I’ll carry the craft in my truck.”
Whether he’s on the road, at the beach, working his “honey-do” list in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or parked somewhere making educational videos, you can count on two things from Ivan Hernandez: He’ll be busy, and he’ll be learning.