Service members eye Kenworth T680, consider trucking careers

When Spec. Charles Bailes returns to hauling fuel, oils and other hazardous materials for the private sector, he has at least one thing on his wish list.

He wants to drive a truck like the Kenworth T680 he saw parked just outside Hanger No. 10 during the Washington State Service Member For Life Transition Summit held recently at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM).

“It’s real nice and it’s got plenty of room,” Bailes said, after climbing down off the cab step. “It’s like a palace compared to the military trucks we drive.”

Bailes, who hauls fuel for the U.S. Army, was one of hundreds of military personnel who got a first-hand look at the Aurora-colored Kenworth T680 76-inch sleeper with the PACCAR MX-13 engine. Kenworth, which has teamed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes and FASTPORT’s Trucking Track Mentoring Program, will be giving away a Kenworth T680 in a nationwide contest to a recently discharged military veteran who becomes a truck driver.

Since Bailes is looking to return to a career of hauling bulk fluids, he’s hoping he can qualify and win the Kenworth T680 following his discharge in several months.

So does Spec. Daniel Mendoza, who’s been in the U.S. Army for three years and has two remaining months of service. Mendoza recently earned his commercial driver’s license after being among the first JBLM soldiers to take part in the “Troops Into Transportation” program.

“The T680 is a great piece of machinery that I wouldn’t mind driving after I’m discharged,” he said. “I could see how the comfort and all of the amenities this truck offers are things that would make the job so much easier. It’s exactly what a trucker wants.” 

Staff Sgt. Richard Steele, who’s retiring after 20 years in the U.S. Army in 47 days and has been giving a second career in truck driving serious consideration, said he thinks the Kenworth T680 is “gorgeous.” If given a choice between two different companies offering jobs, if one provided a T680 and the other didn’t, all other things being equal, would he pick the company with the T680? “Absolutely!” Steele said with a grin. 

While other service members like Steele were interested in driving the T680 after their discharge, Thomas was more interested in servicing and repairing it. Thomas, who asked to be identified only by his first name, served as a helicopter mechanic during his time in the Army. His service included one tour of duty in Afghanistan. After looking at the T680’s PACCAR MX-13 engine, he said he is giving some serious thought to a career in diesel mechanics upon completion of his service.

“The PACCAR MX-13 engine is impressive. It’s obvious to me that it was designed by someone who knew about the challenges of servicing engines. All of the wiring and circuitry is easily accessible. It looks much easier to service than other engines I’ve worked on. I could see this truck spending a lot less time in the shop getting serviced and repaired,” Thomas added.

Thomas said he has had extensive experience fixing and rebuilding automotive engines since he was 18 and is dismayed at how complex and difficult they’ve become to service and repair. “If the MX-13 engine is any indication of the thought that goes into building diesel-powered truck engines, I could see myself becoming a diesel technician.”

The soldiers saw the T680 on the third day of the three-day summit. The third day included employment seminars and panel discussions plus a hiring fair involving dozens of local and national employers and attracting more than 1,000 service members. The transition summit at JBLM is one of more than two dozen being held at military bases across the country and around the world.

Marnie Holder, chief, Installation Management Command (INCOM) Soldier for Life, said the display of the Kenworth T680 at the Hiring Our Heroes career fairs and summits has drawn a lot of attention from service members and their military spouses.

“Being able to experience the Kenworth T680 truck first-hand inside and out, gets people excited!” Holder said. “It helps dispel myths they may have had about a trucking career. The T680 is state-of-the art and the fact that Kenworth is giving one away to a recently discharged veteran makes joining the trucking industry even more enticing.  The summits and hiring events have opened up the dialogue on unique career paths desirable to many veterans and military spouses especially those associated with trucking after seeing they could be driving an awesome truck!”

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