Many of our veterans return home from their service and become truck drivers. A lot of the “old timers” (and not-so-old) out there learned to drive trucks in the military. For many, driving a truck is the obvious “next step” when returning to civilian life. I don’t think we can ever say thank you enough to the men and women who serve in the military and defend our right to be free. I want to thank each and every one of you who have served – it doesn’t matter what war, if any – what matters is that you went
somewhere and did something to help keep all of us back here at home safe and free!
Being deployed in a dangerous area can’t be easy on anyone – the one deployed or the loved ones left at home waiting for their safe return. Mike Barnes (26), a marine who was deployed in Afghanistan, grew up in a trucking family. Typically, when someone is deployed in a hostile area, the family hopes to never get “that call” from a government official. Well, in Mike’s case, the call was reversed. After talking to his dad and wishing him a happy Father’s Day in 2011, he got the call the next morning while out on patrol – it was a Red Cross message telling him that his father Steven Barnes had suffered a fatal heart attack while driving his truck on I-55 in Mississippi. Thankfully, he did not hit anyone else on the road that day. This happened just four days before his dad’s 50th birthday.
Mike was granted emergency leave and three days later he was home, but it took a week to get his father’s body out of Mississippi and back home. It’s something that most of us don’t like to think about, but the job we have, being out on the road, creates a much higher probability of something happening to us while out of state, and the red tape involved in getting a body back home, which differs from state to state, can be ridiculous. If you are a driver and don’t have a will, it would be a good idea to put this on your “to do” list. This is so important – you can’t come back to fix it if something were to happen to you. Mike told me that each time they are deployed they are required to make out their will. Sounds morbid, but it is a good idea.
In his youth, Mike went with his father on the road in the summers since he was old enough to walk. He made a promise to his dad that when he got out of the military he was going to drive a truck, and even though his dad is not here, he is keeping that promise. Sadly, they will never be able to run together like some of his friends and their dads, but Mike is sure that things happen sometimes to let him know that his dad is there with him. Like when Alabama’s song “Roll On” comes on the radio, or the time he saw “Following Dad’s Footsteps Living A Little Boy’s Dream” on the back of a truck in Wisconsin… he will always have the memories of trucking with his dad.
The youngest of four boys, Mike was the only one with a burning desire to drive a truck for a living. Teaching him how to drive when he was just a kid, Mike’s dad would sometimes let him drive late at night on a quiet road. Mike used his military college credit to go to truck driving school since most companies today require school at a minimum. Truck driving school was more of a formality for Mike, with the experience he had being with his dad and all that he had taught him about driving and the road. Mike’s mom, Marda Barnes, used to occasionally ride with Steven, but with four boys at home, those times were rare. Now, she is a little nervous about Mike being a truck driver, but she understands and supports his choice. Mike always says, “Never go faster than your angel can fly” – well, he never trucks faster than his dad can fly!
Trucking was not the first thing that Mike followed in his dad’s footsteps. Steven served in the Army for eight years and was deployed to Germany during that time. While there, he had an old nickname “Red” (from his red hair) tattooed on his arm. In honor of his father, Mike now has the same tattoo on his arm. He also uses his dad’s old CB handle – Sloe Poke. I am sure that his dad is very proud of his son and what he is doing in honor of his memory.
Driving for Chad Leenerts of Griggsville, Illinois, Mike says he is an “amazing” boss. Mike pulled a flatbed for a while and then a pneumatic tanker, but these days he is really enjoying pulling a reefer. Personally, I think pulling a reefer is a great choice. Chad takes good care of his drivers and his equipment, and Mike would like to say thanks for all that he does and let him know how much he appreciates it. Recently engaged to his beautiful fiancée Kendra, the two have not set a date yet. Having dated back in high school, Kendra remembers Mike’s dad and his trucks. Talking about this time made her smile.
Mike’s time in Afghanistan had its scary moments, for sure. While driving a MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) Oshkosh vehicle, Mike ran over a 65-lb. IED (improvised explosive device). At the time, he was the team leader and had five guys with him – thankfully, the vehicle did its job and everyone in the truck was okay. Mike remembers the explosion, and because of this, he no longer can enjoy firework displays. I can’t imagine something like this happening. Complaining about other drivers and rough roads cannot compare with worrying about running over things put there to blow you up!
While in Afghanistan, Mike lost two friends from his unit and several others lost limbs. This makes him very passionate about the Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) – he would like to help this cause with a truck show that would raise awareness and money for this important program. He told me that going out on foot patrol was much more dangerous than driving the trucks, because they offered so much protection. After seeing the picture of the vehicle he was driving after he ran over that IED, I thought it might be interesting to look into those big (and not-so-big) trucks the military uses to protect our troops.
For over 90 years, Oshkosh Defense in Oshkosh, WI has been mobilizing our military with a complete portfolio of heavily-protected light, medium and heavy duty vehicles. Oshkosh feels that it is an honor and privilege to serve the men and women who risk their lives for our country, designing products to help them successfully complete their missions. Approximately 4,000 employees make up the Oshkosh Defense team. The team consists of hundreds who have served or are currently serving in the military and thousands with family members and friends currently serving. They are inspired by them, committed to them, and driven to provide them with their very best.
Technology is at the forefront of Oshkosh Defense. Even before a goal to have one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015 was announced by the U.S. Armed Forces, Oshkosh was already deep into the development of their new TerraMax UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle), a vehicle kit system that helps protect Warfighters from IED threats and increase performance in all autonomous missions. Designed for use on any tactical wheeled vehicle and backed by thousands of miles of field testing, the Oshkosh TerraMax UGV is capable of supervised autonomous navigation in either a lead or follow role. Its multi-sensor system provides accurate positioning estimates without needing to rely on continuous tracking through a lead vehicle or GPS signals. It is pretty wild stuff. If you find yourself with a little time on your hands, visit www.oshkoshdefense.com and check out all of their high-tech vehicles.
It is neat to see how well our warriors are protected but scary to think about why they need all this protection. I, for one, am glad that Mike and his team were driving in a well-protected vehicle and praise the military for providing our guys with the best of the best – no matter what they cost! I would like to thank Mike for talking to me about really personal things, and wish him all the best as he takes yet another “next step” when he marries his fiancée, Kendra, sometime soon. And, for all the rest of you out there who have served, I thank you for your service from the bottom of my heart. I hope your “next steps” lead you to where you want or need to be.