Calling in the Troops

Calling in the Troops

The ingenuity of America’s fighting forces has been the deciding factor in the greatest challenges the world has ever seen. Could history’s best-trained military men and women provide the answers to the supply chain workforce challenges we face today?

Military leaders’ claim on logistics is pervasive throughout history. Everyone from Patton to Sun Tzu acknowledges its importance.

The military is both a producer and inspirer of logistics innovations. Not only is it on the forefront of moving food, fuel, and freight, but the military way also makes every service member an expert logistician.

Eric Vasquez, currently a senior master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, as well as the managing member and owner of Veterans Logistics Group, believes that everything the military does is on the cutting edge of logistics.

“Take any member of the military who’s stationed stateside, regardless of their specifically trained job, and logistics would apply,” he says. “When any conflict arises, global mobility kicks in at a moment’s notice. That’s the entire purpose of our training.”

When the deployment package drops, he says, everything moves: tanks, guns, freight, equipment—and reservists like him, who have 12 hours to grab their deployment bag and report to base.

Innovation was the tip of the spear that led to the inception of Veterans Logistics Group. Sitting in critical production meetings, seeing the repair of a multi-million-dollar aircraft being held up by parts lost as they were being expedited across the country, inspired Vasquez to develop a proprietary tracking technology and logistics company, anchored in transparency and agile solutions.

Not every veteran separates from the military with formal skills in logistics, supply chain or transportation. Third-party logistics providers and other companies that hire military veterans gravitate toward other competencies common in those who have served.

From Public To Private

A frequent challenge for service members and the companies recruiting them is translating public sector skills to the private sector. Ross Dickman knows the challenge firsthand. He is an Army veteran and the chief operating officer of Hire Heroes USA, a not-for-profit organization that helps military veterans and their spouses find new careers.

During his 12 years with the Army, Dickman flew Apache helicopters. “There are not many jobs outside of the military that require that skill set,” he says.

After his separation from the military, Dickman had to do the same work on himself that his organization does for thousands of vets every year–transfer military skills to the private business environment. “On an aviation parlance, I can wiggle the sticks and make a helicopter fly,” he explains. “But there’s so much more to that.”

Among the low-flying skills he lists are planning and coordinating the mission set and assets; the decision-making and risk management in the flight; the coordination across the team; and the logistics, supply chain, and production control that goes into aircraft maintenance.

Tech-Savvy Skills

Exposure to advanced technology like the systems of an Apache helicopter makes veterans natural adapters of today’s supply chain technologies and advanced systems onboard trucks.

The tech-savvy abilities of today’s veterans is attractive to Averitt Express. “We live in an age when our military is smarter, better educated, and more capable than ever thanks to cutting-edge technology and expert training,” says Elise Leeson, vice president of human resources for freight transportation and supply chain management provider.

Teamwork and leadership are also traits of veterans prized by companies like Averitt. “At all levels of the military, people are expected to lead by example, instruct others, manage peers or step up in a crisis,” Leeson says. “A natural leader is a major asset to any team.”

Veterans have pre-installed soft skills that organizations value highly because they know they can build on them.

The maturity of veterans makes up for skill gaps, according to Tom Voshell, vice president of the Federal Program Management Office at Coupa, which provides a cloud-based spend management platform with a supply chain design and optimization component. As the company expands into the public sector, it is recruiting veterans for cloud operations, support, technical services, and secure ops.

It can be difficult to map military experience—referred to by MOS, AFSC, or RATE classifications used by the various military branches—into commercial requirements, Voshell says. One example is trying to find a veteran who is certified in AWS Cloud.

A veteran might have done that job in the military, but just doesn’t have the certification. If that’s the case, he says, it may take a little bit of education for them to get certified. CoupaU is one online resource with courses and certification tracks veterans can leverage.

The recruits Voshell sees are extremely dedicated to digging in and learning, especially when given the ability to expand on their career. “They see it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and move into this career path,” he says.

Competencies and character traits compensate for skill gaps at companies like transportation and logistics provider J.B. Hunt. “The relative experience of military veterans transitions and translates into the skill sets we need,” says Eric Airola, former Marine and leader of J.B. Hunt’s Military & Veteran Relations programs. “With the proper training plan, we can make it work.”

Agile thought and resilient problem-solving are two prized traits of vets.

“In the military, people change jobs,” says Vasquez. “Throughout their career, their level and scope of responsibility naturally broaden. For instance, it could be that they’re in charge of all vehicles. Then it expands to vehicles and personnel. Then they’re in charge of the aircraft, personnel, and multiple processes.”

Innovation, reinvention and disruption are hardwired into service members who are trained, promoted, and moved around frequently. The restlessness leads to fresh thinking.

“In the Army, we moved every two to three years or were deployed every two to three years,” says Dickman. “So two years into a role, my bones told me it’s time to move.”

The cycle serves as a sort of psychic alarm clock that reminds him to ask, “how are you upskilling?” and “how are you growing your team?” he says.

Leveraging the Value of Vets

Coveting vets is nothing new for trucking companies in the know. Company founder Johnnie Bryan Hunt was a veteran, and 13% of J.B. Hunt employees are veterans. The company has an ongoing goal to hire 1,600 former service members every year.

The majority of the recruits J.B. Hunt and Averitt bring in are truckers. Averitt has onboarded more than 350 former military drivers in the past 16 months. Both Averitt and J.B. Hunt recruit on bases, at job fairs, and through placement organizations like Hire Heroes.

Approximately 200,000 men and women leave U.S. military service and return to life as civilians every year, according to the Department of Labor. The collective branches discharge many vets with direct experience in driving, warehousing, managing inventory, and planning logistics.

For many of them, driving is an attractive career move and they can apply their driving experience toward getting their commercial driver’s license (CDL) as well as G.I. Bill aid they can use to pay for CDL classes.

Through the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge Program, for example, transitioning service members can participate in CDL classes while they are still on active duty and veterans can leverage the G.I. Bill to pay for tuition and training fees. States may also waive CDL skills tests for qualified veterans who gain credit for their driving experience while in service through the Skills Test Waiver.

Managers in Training

Managers are also being recruited. Participants in J.B. Hunt’s SkillBridge, program, which enables service members to gain civilian work experience with industry partners during their last 180 days of service, are referred to as “managers in training” rather than interns. Since February 2021, 100 transitioning military service members have joined the program.

In J.B. Hunt’s program, managers in training go into various transportation services in its business units. In 2022, the company will have added tracks for engineering, technology, human resources, and maintenance.

Individuals in the program come from varying backgrounds. Some retired from the military after 20 years, while others have been in for as few as four years.

DoD SkillBridge participants aren’t guaranteed a job after completing the program, but J.B. Hunt has hired nearly two-thirds of participants, and the company views SkillBridge as an integral piece of its talent acquisition strategy.

Graduate success stories include a director in mergers and acquisitions, a rookie of the year in the dedicated business unit, and a manager in the company’s final-mile services who has been promoted twice in less than one year.

The efforts of leaders to hire veterans focus beyond recruiting. The culture jump from public to private can come with challenges. Vets naturally gravitate to other vets, so creating support groups in the company helps shorten the distance for employees to find community.

To promote open lines of communication to veteran employees, J.B. Hunt has a Military Ambassador program made up of veterans who advise on veteran-related services. Its Veteran Employee Resource Group (VERG) provides mentoring and the opportunity to network and share contacts and experiences.

Coupa also runs a veterans’ support group and every new employee is assigned a buddy who provides one-to-one mentoring. This program partners an existing veteran within Coupa with a new hire to help them navigate through the process of moving from the military community into the corporate culture.

Companies that want to tap into the veteran workforce will find an army of resources. The Biden administration made veterans a centerpiece of its plans to solve the trucker shortage in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service—led by a Marine veteran first sergeant and former drill instructor—is working closely with the DoD, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Small Business Administration to connect transitioning service members and veterans with trucking industry employers.

The Hon. James D. Rodriguez, the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for Veteran’s Employment and Training Service (VETS) views careers in the trucking industry as a natural continuation of veterans “doing the bidding of our nation’s interests, again, out of uniform,” he said in an NVTI podcast.

“Veterans will be key components of our success in building up the trucking industry again,” Rodriguez said. “There are things that we are currently doing at VETS to help strengthen career opportunities post military service.”

An example of federal programs working together to benefit veterans who want to get into trucking is the coordination of the DOL Registered Apprentice Program, the DOT Skills Test Waiver plus Knowledge Test Waiver, and the VA Education (G.I. Bill Benefits) Program.

Averitt has rolled these three programs into its G.I. Bill Driver Training Program, which prepares veterans for career opportunities that include local CDL jobs, dock worker jobs, and regional truck driving jobs. Those who qualify can receive paid on-the-job training that leads to a Class A commercial driver’s license.

Who’s Helping Who Here?

The 200,000 service members who transition out of active duty each year provide an outstanding opportunity in today’s tight labor market. Veterans are truly diamonds in the rough—and post-9/11 veterans only more so.

“While in uniform, veterans benefit not from just world-class technical training, but also from extraordinary opportunities to develop soft skills such as teamwork, resourcefulness, and initiative—traits that employers consistently rank as among the most desirable. Hiring veterans is not just the right thing to do—it is a smart business decision,” says Rodriguez.

Companies with successful veteran programs know that simply bringing vets onboard for altruistic reasons isn’t enough.

J.B. Hunt has made retaining veterans recruits a top priority. “Companies that hire veterans need to have a solid training program and a career path for the vets,” Airola notes.

For companies like J.B. Hunt, looking out for vets trumps the tooth-and-nail fight to recruit truck drivers and logistics professionals seen elsewhere in the industry. Proponents of veteran advancement at companies are surprisingly collaborative.

Sharing information with other employers is commonplace. “In the military relations community, people are so open because the end game is to take care of transitioning military and veterans, and military spouses, and help them,” Airola explains. “They’ve sacrificed so much. Can we help them get into careers?

“We’d love to hire them all,” he adds. “We can’t possibly, but they all deserve great jobs.”

How to Speak with Military Efficiency

No one does acronyms like the military. It’s a language unto itself. Learn from the masters with these syllable-savers.

DARPA: Darth Vader’s lair? A laser-guided conveyance system? Magic carpet drones? No. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

VETS: Veterans Employment and Training Service. Think of it as the everything agency that’s working to align services of a wide swath of agencies ranging from the DOT and DOD to the SBA and VA.

ASVET: Not a put-down. Not Astro Supply Chain Vehicular Extraterrestrial Transport. It’s the Associate Secretary Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, currently The Hon. James D. Rodriguez.

MOS: Military Occupation Specialty is a classification system used by most military branches to describe occupational fields in the services. They include everything from 35-Motor Transport to 58-Military Police and Corrections. The Air Force has its own system, the Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) and the Navy has its own version called “ratings.”

C-SCRM: Cybersecurity-Supply Chain Risk Management. Probably not pronounced see-scream, definitely the cover-agency Jack Ryan will work for in the show’s next season.

DISA: Defense Industry Security Agency. Don’t dis these guys if you know what’s good for you.

FOCI: This is not a game played by old men in Brooklyn. It stands for “Mitigate Foreign Ownership, Control, or Influence.” (A military mantra and recurring theme in the IIJA.)

IIJA: No one in the military says “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” but everyone’s talking about IIJA.

LogX: The acronym every military-hipster loves to say stands for Joint Logistics Enterprise. Part of the DoD, LogX spans both supply chain and logistics operations and provides the means to muster, transport, and sustain military power anywhere in the world at a high level of readiness.

SOTA: State-of-the-Art. For best results when pitching an idea to the brass, use SOTA, not “cool” or “awesome.”

SOTP: State-of-the-Practice. Substitute “Well, this is just the way we’ve always done it here” (12 syllables) with SOTP (4 letters) to get your point across with military precision.

HASC: House Armed Services Committee. A standing committee of the United States House of Representatives.

Welcome to the Front Line of Logistics Innovation

Necessity is the mother of all invention. That’s why the military excels at supply chain and logistics innovation. Here are a few examples.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has an answer when other transportation options are blocked. High-speed tactical tunnel creation.

DARPA’s Underminer program “demonstrated the feasibility of rapidly constructing tactical tunnel networks that enable secure, responsive resupply in denied environments,” reveals a March 2022 post on

A recent post by Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF (Ret.) on Duke University’s Lawfire Blog, details some ways the American military is seeking to streamline the logistics of getting food, fuel, and water to troops.

The problem with water logistics is that water is heavy and hard to transport. The military is looking at ways to tap potable water from sewage using a “super-wicking anti-gravity aluminum panel that uses solar power to purify water,” according to Interesting Engineering.

DARPA also announced an initiative in 2020 to find a way to pull water from the desert air.

Getting fuel to troops in a conflict, and just relying on a steady and ready source, is risky business. The Army reported in June 2020 that it had developed an advanced scientific model for creating bio-derived fuels in austere locations. With this solution the Army could convert wood logs and other biomass into fuel for vehicles and equipment.

Troops getting sustainable energy from solar panels sounds conventional, except for when it’s beamed from a satellite. The Air Force is looking into this unconventional delivery system, says a 2020 article in CleanTechnica.

Then there is the nuclear option. Dunlap points out that portable nuclear reactors are already a thing on aircraft carriers and subs. Per a press release in March 2020, the Department of Defense is looking into land-based models.

The military is also embracing a philosophy of “why move what you can print?” Parts for weapons, equipment, machinery, and food are fair game. Yes, food. According to Digital Engineering 247, 3D food printers essentially bring a portable butcher shop, dairy, vegetable farm, bakery, and kitchen to anywhere troops go.

The U.S. military has company on the innovation front. For years, Europeans have been focused on applying additive manufacturing, like 3D and 4D printing, to the provision and delivery of spare parts from decentralized locations. That includes attaching 3D units to combat units, according to a post by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS).

You could say that networking information nodes in a system together has been a major goal of armed forces in Europe and around the globe for centuries. AI, big data, blockchain, and deep learning may finally succeed where others have failed, EUISS says.

In addition to predicting repairs and inventory needs, EUISS says AI systems could divine how logistics information is disseminated to increase inter-unit cooperation and enhance interoperability among service branches and allies’ military organizations.

Leave it to the military to create Pax Logistica.