Don Davis and his wife, Rebekah, nearly doubled their combined income when the two military veterans became commercial truck drivers and started making longhaul trips between Chicago and the East Coast for the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based U.S. Xpress Enterprises.
"We're used to being away from home in the military," said Dan Davis, a 33-year-old veteran of the Army and Navy who twice served in Iraq. "Truck driving is definitely a great career if you don't mind spending time by yourself, which a lot of us did in the military."
U.S. Xpress ranks No. 19 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.
Davis used his GI bill to get his commercial driver license through a truck driving school and continues to receive GI benefits to supplement his income through a veterans apprenticeship program that U.S. Xpress joined last month.
As part of the Post 9/11 GI Bill Apprenticeship Program, veterans may receive tax-free educational benefits while training with U.S. Xpress to become truck drivers or diesel technicians. Participants can receive up to $25,700 from the Veterans Administration over a two-year period, depending on their years of military service, on top of their salary from U.S. Xpress.
Professional truck drivers can usually expect to earn between $50,000 and $70,000 based upon which driving opportunity the veteran qualifies for at U.S. Xpress. Combined with the GI Bill benefits, military veterans in the apprenticeship program can earn up to $82,000 in their first year with the company.
If a veteran chooses to enter the program as a diesel technician, they can expect to earn between $35,000 and $50,000 depending on experience and performance.
The GI bill benefits, which typically take 90 days or so to process, are granted tax-free to the recipients.
Wayne Roy, a 31-year-old Marine who served from 2004 to 2008 as a motor mechanic in the military, joined U.S. Xpress in August 2016 after going through truck driving school and is able to supplement his drivers' pay with what is left on his GI Bill.
"I love to travel, and this helps me make this transition into what I hope to make my career," Roy said.
U.S. Xpress hopes more veterans use their GI Bill benefits to go into truck driving. According to American Trucking Associations, the industry needs at least 25,000 more truck drivers, and the shortage of drivers is likely to increase as qualified drivers age and retire and the demand for truck shipments increases along with the economy.
"We value the strong work ethic and leadership experience veterans can bring to our company," said Eric Fuller, chief operating officer for U.S. Xpress. "Beyond that, veterans have a sense of productivity, accountability and a 'can-do' attitude that will serve them well in trucking, which is why we look to hire veterans in every aspect of our company."
U.S. Xpress launched its Military Recruitment Initiative back in July 2016 as part of the company's commitment to providing veterans with an opportunity to start a new career in the growing logistics industry.
"Our veterans have always played an essential role in keeping our country strong, and now, we want veterans to put their skills to work as a U.S. Xpress truck driver and serve our country in a new way — one that will help keep the transportation industry moving forward and our economy strong," said Fuller.
"I truly believe our new apprenticeship program will help make this possible by giving veterans added financial stability as they transition out of the military and into a new career."