Ashley Leiva, Mother and Combat Veteran, Wins Award for New Truck Drivers
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WASHINGTON — A young mother from Texas who is a 15-year combat veteran won the keys to a T680 Next Generation Kenworth truck Dec. 16 after capturing the 2022 Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The award, launched in 2016 to address the nationwide driver shortage and create immediate jobs for transitioning military personnel, National Guard members and reservists, was granted in partnership with Kenworth Trucks and Fastport Inc. and the chamber foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes.
Ashley Leiva’s family, including her daughter, Olivia, 5, 85-year-old grandmother, and brother Johnny (also a veteran and new truck driver), filled an entire row to cheer her on as she gathered with 11 other semifinalists to await news about the winner.
After hearing her name called, she was hugged by family members and wiped away tears while making her way to the podium, where she thanked God, recognized Del Mar College for nominating her and expressed gratitude to the sponsors. “You guys are changing lives.”
A gleaming T-680 Next Generation Kenworth truck awaited the winner outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building in Washington. (Ian Wagreich/U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
Leiva, who served two deployment tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, drives for Draco Energy and Noemi Trucking. She spoke of her mother, Noemi, who enjoyed a 20-year career as a truck driver before dying of stomach cancer last year and influenced her and her brother to become drivers. The siblings took over their mother’s business, renaming it Noemi Trucking, to carry it on as a family operation.
Besides the truck, which retails for $155,000, Leiva was awarded a Transition Trucking Scholarship for full tuition covered by National University. The educational award was granted by Meg O’Grady, university senior vice president of military and government programs.
Five-year-old Olivia couldn't contain her excitement over her mother being announced the winner. (Ian Wagreich/U.S. Chamber of Commerce)
Johnny Leiva told Transport Topics that with Ashley’s new truck, both siblings will be able to expand their business since it will become a two-truck fleet. His wife, Sabrina, said she is leaving her ocean refinery technology career to also be a driver for Noemi Trucking because it gives her greater flexibility in her schedule to care for their five children.
Also receiving awards were finalists and Navy veterans Sean Adams, a driver for Alabama-based McElroy Truck Lines Inc., and Dave Marihugh, who drives for Roehl Transport of Wisconsin. They each won a $10,000 cash prize.
Finalists Dave Marihugh (left) of Roehl Transport and Sean Adams of McElroy Truck Lines each received a check for $10,000. (Noël Fletcher)
Patrick Murphy, 32nd under secretary of the Army, an Army veteran and Hiring our Heroes ambassador, said he came from a trucking company family. His grandfather was a Teamster after World War II and his father was a Vietnam War veteran who drove a truck.
“The American truck driver is the face of our supply chain,” Murphy told the audience. “Thank you so much for making our country even better.”
The Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award is for a military veteran rookie driver who has made a successful transition to the industry within the last 12 months. After trucking companies this year nominated military veteran drivers based on their performance, the field was narrowed to 11 semifinalists based on a public vote and an independent selection committee, including representatives from motor carriers, driver training schools and trade associations.
“Whether you walk away with the keys or not, every single one of you are winners, not only for what you’ve done, but what you continue to do,” Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president and retired Navy captain, told the semifinalists. “Congratulations to each of you for your accomplishments.”
The other driver semifinalists were:
- Jason Van Boxtel, Marine Corps veteran, Veriha Trucking Inc.
- Cale Jensen, Air Force and Army veteran, G. Dubbels Farms Trucking Inc.
- Paul Gouker, Army and National Guard veteran, Stevens Transport
- Chris McDowell, Army and National Guard veteran, Epes Transport
- Joe Nyenatee, Army veteran, Melton Truck Lines
- Talon Rogers, Army veteran, CRST
- Justin Silk, Army veteran, Paschall Truck Lines
- Michael D. Thomas, Marine Corps, Prime Inc.
Genevieve Bekkerus, director of marketing for Kenworth Trucking Co., said, “It takes a special person to become a member of the armed forces and transitions well into the trucking industry.”
Jesus Davila, an American Trucking Associations Road Team captain and a professional truck driver for four years who works for Werner Enterprises, spoke at the event. Davila is a Marine combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. During his service, he received two personal awards with Combat Distinguishing Devices “V” and was awarded the Purple Heart.
He thanked the nominees for their “safety, dedication to trucking and choosing trucking as your career.”
Fastport President Brad Bentley said the annual competition had more diversity than ever before in nominations.
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