Over a decade and a half ago, Freightliner shift manager and Vietnam War veteran Ed Keeter proposed a special project as a way to honor current and former members of the U.S. military: custom-build a unique highway tractor every year decorated with one-of-kind graphics highlighting the history and heroism of America’s fighting forces.
Over the last 15 years, a goodly number of those “tribute trucks,” which became widely known as “Ride of Pride” tractors, ended up at Green Bay, WI-based truckload carrier Schneider -- nine U.S. Ride of Pride trucks in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017, as well as two Canadian Ride of Pride trucks in 2011 and 2015, which honors the military men and women who served under the Maple Leaf flag.
But Schneider doesn’t deploy its one-of-kind “Ride of Pride” tractors into regular freight service straightaway.
First, those trucks spend 12 months traveling the U.S. to various military-themed events – everything from parades to funerals – as well as hauling freight. Following that year of service, those trucks will often be called upon for special service, such as delivering wreaths to military graveyards.
The truckload carrier also doesn’t assign its “Ride of Pride” tractors to just any driver within its ranks; rather, the more than 28% of Schneider drivers who are military veterans or actively serving in the Armed Forces get a chance to apply for the opportunity to helm a “Ride of Pride” tractor.
Over the years, American Trucker got a chance to spend some time with a few of Schneider’s “Ride of Pride” drivers; a select group of veterans who all stressed that the emotional impact of driving these special trucks exceeded anything they ever expected, with a “huge responsibility” attached to operating them. Here are their stories.
David Price, Schneider’s 2017 Ride of Pride driver
A U.S. Navy Reserves veteran, David Price joined the military in 2003 at age 38 largely due to the terrorist attacks of September 11.
A Fort Worth, Texas, resident, Price served for 14 years in the Navy Reserves, deploying to Kuwait for one year and Afghanistan for 15 months as a member of the Seabees, a construction battalion of the Navy that goes out in advance of other operations to build sites.
He joined Schneider in 2012 and has been both an intermodal driver and training engineer in his five year tenure with the motor carrier.
An ordained minister, Price told American Trucker that he “expected” to be affected emotionally as a “Ride of Pride” driver – especially when bringing the truck to military burial ceremonies.
But even he found himself overwhelmed when he first laid eyes on the 2017 “Ride of Pride” tractor he later renamed “The American” in honor of his late father’s race car earlier this year ahead of the Memorial Day holiday – the traditional “starting day” for a “Ride of Pride” truck’s tour of duty.
“I expected the emotion but I broke down when I picked it up,” Price said, due to its detailed graphics displaying military memorials such as the Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and 13 other monuments.
Price and the truck then made their public debut at Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle-themed gathering in Washington, D.C., in support of military veterans, prisoners of war (POWs) and those missing in action (MIA) over the holiday weekend.
“I knew this truck would heal people,” he emphasized. “It’s a rolling tribute of honor and remembrance. In my view, driving this truck is the pinnacle of my career.”
Price also works extra hard to keep the truck as clean as possible, as wherever he goes – truck stops, rest stops, freight docks, truck shows, and military ceremonies – he often finds himself mobbed by crowds of people, young and old, all eager to talk about the monuments decorating its exterior.
“Recently, I had just finished cleaning the truck and polishing its chrome, when this red bus full of senior adults pulls up to the restaurant at the truck stop I’m parked at,” Price said.
“Here I am, dirty and sweaty, and they pour out of the bus straight to me. They could not get to the truck fast enough. I could see the pride shining in their eyes,” he noted. “They didn’t care that I was so dirty; they all wanted to do was hug me. It never gets old for me.”
Randy Twine, Schneider’s 2014 Ride of Pride driver
After a year spent crisscrossing the country to support a variety of military-themed endeavors – from participating in parades, Wounded Warrior charity events, even military funerals – one would think Randy Twine might find it difficult to adjust to being a solo truck driver again, alone with his thoughts traveling hundreds if not thousands of miles of asphalt.
Thing is, Twine is never alone.
Ever present either on his person or in his truck are two well-worn photographs of U.S. Army soldiers killed in action (KIA): Captain Christopher Scott Cash, KIA in Afghanistan, and Specialist Dustin Harris, KIA in Iraq.
Twine, a native of Clarksville, TN, explained to American Trucker in an interview back in that the mothers of both those soldiers – known in military circles as “gold star mothers” – gave him the pictures after Twine hosted them in his truck during separate events honoring the U.S. military dead.
“They shared their memories of their sons with me because they live on only if they are remembered,” Twine told me. “And it’s very easy to carry such brave lives lived with me wherever I go.”
Yet he admitted that it’s hard as well, especially if one is an “emotional person” as the gregarious Twine most certainly is.
“Sometimes it gets to me; sometimes I’m driving down the road and tears just start falling down my face,” he said.
The photo of Spec. Harris is especially poignant for Twine.
A Schneider driver since 1993, Twine served more than 12 years with the U.S. Army before transitioning to the Army National Guard in 1992 and then the Air Force National Guard in 1999.
After deployments to Panama, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, he retired from military service in 2006 to drive tractor-trailers full time.
Yet that last assignment proved the toughest, for Twine handled “HR” flights for the Air Force – the shipment of “human remains” from the combat zone back home. In conversations with Harris’ father, Twine realized that Harris would have been one of his HR cases, if he’d stayed in the field but one week longer.
Yet Twine regrets neither his military memories nor his service as a “Ride of Pride” driver for Schneider. Indeed, he considered it a “bucket list item” and relished the chance to serve his military brethren in this fashion.
“It’s simple patriotism,” he explained to me. “My greatest honor is the privilege of living and working for this country, which is the greatest in the world. As ‘Ride of Pride’ drivers we have to be outstanding ambassadors for our company, yes, but more so for our military brothers and sisters.”
Twine added that an extra layer of duties comes with being a “Ride of Pride” ambassador, namely: being diplomatic and cordial in all circumstances; keeping the truck clean at all times; recognizing that you are in the public eye; and emotional preparedness.
“Nothing prepares you for everything you experience as a ‘Ride of Pride’ driver,” Twine stressed. “But you do the best you can. And the best part of it all is knowing that you’ve made a difference in this world.”
Jeff Edwards, Schneider’s 2011 Ride of Pride driver
It takes a lot of courage to face your fears head on; to commit one’s self to a long-term battle that, in some ways, may never end.
A lot folks might shirk such duty, simply because the unending mental strain of such a conflict would be unbearable – especially for those who suffer such strain due to combat duty.
Not Jeff Edwards, though.
Many truck drivers might consider driving “Ride of Pride” trucks cross-country to make appearances at a variety of military functions, parades, and truck shows as easy duty.
Indeed, Edwards told American Trucker back in late 2011 that “Ride of Pride” duties only put him on the road at most two weeks at a time then get four or five days off in a row at home with his wife and two kids. And for most of the time, running a “Ride and Pride” truck meant little to no loading or unloading of freight; just keeping the rig clean and talking to all manner of folks at different events.
Except that talking to people and spending long hours in crowded spaces is often the very last thing Edwards can endure.
The reason for the strain – as this 13-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps explained in plain, blunt language – relates to post traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD. It’s a severe anxiety disorder that occurs after a person witnesses or experiences a traumatic event that involves the threat of injury or death – and combat is right up there at the top of that list.
Edwards’ served in a variety of hot spots during his time in the Marines – Liberia and Haiti in 1996, then Kosovo and Bosnia in 1999 – before deciding the retire. The attacks of September 11 in 2001 changed his mind, though, so he re-upped on Sept. 12; ending up with the 2nd Marine division during the famous “Race to Baghdad” operation in the Iraq war.
A big man at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Edwards served as a TOW missile operator [the acronym stands for “tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire command data link” guided missile] and spent six grueling months under fire. Shortly thereafter, he started experiencing PTSD symptoms – nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance in crowded places – and eventually got discharged in 2006.
Edwards explained how PTSD affected his daily life when we spoke at a truck show several months ago. A resident of Flatlick, Kentucky, he’d once taken his two kids into nearby Louisville to watch a college basketball game.
“My wife asked me how the game went, but I never saw it – I kept watching the people around me the whole time, ready to grab my kids and run in a second,” he said.
He couldn’t tolerate confined spaces at all, which meant office work and coal mining (one of the major industries in and around Flatlick) were non-starters. He initially didn’t want to drive a truck, either, because he’d be away from his family for long stretches; Edwards had already done enough of that with the Marines.
Then Schneider came calling with a dedicated route and that sealed the deal for Edwards: he grabbed the wheel of a big rig and never looked back.
And in some ways, too, driving a truck proved therapeutic, as well – allowing him to be alone for long stretches by himself, away from the cacophony of modern day living which often triggered his PTSD.
Yet when Schneider put out a call to military veterans in its driver ranks to volunteer to be the 2011 “Ride of Pride” operator, Edwards never hesitated to throw his proverbial hat in the ring, despite the difficulties he knew he’d face due to his PTSD.
“The reason I didn’t think twice about it is because of this truck’s mission,” Edwards explained. “Usually, I’m a very quiet person, but when it comes to our military, it’s easy for me to talk.”
He beat out nine other candidates for the job to drive this truck, taking it from one end of the country to the other to participate in a variety of events (and tasked with cleaning it top to bottom twice a day, too). But the toughest part of the job – and one part he felt the most wary about – was bringing the truck to military funerals.
“I was worried about it,” Edwards freely admitted. “But once I saw the reaction of the family – once I saw that they lifted up a little bit because it was there – then I was OK with it.”
And though Edwards still struggles with PTSD, he finally felt he’d gained the upper hand – and in many ways, his service as a “Ride of Pride” driver helped him gain better control of his affliction.