Back Behind the Wheel
For seven years, Reece Watters drove as an 88M Motor Transport Operator for the U.S. Army.
Now, it’s been seven years since she has driven large equipment and is getting back behind the wheel, retrained and certified through the Illinois Central College Truck Driver Training Program to enter the next phase of her life.
“That’s the goal. Get my CDL, get my certificate, get a job and start making some money and pay off debt,” Reece said. “... This is definitely going to help me out.”
Reece was in the military from 2005-2012 and served 15 months in Iraq as a driver. Riding in large convoys brought its own dangers, but the training and experience is starting to carry over after her seven-year break.
“My training from being in the military was always watching out for everything around your truck, behind your truck, in front of your truck. You know, safety is the most important key and they stress that in this class and it was a big deal in the military as well. Safety, safety, safety,” Reece said.
“All those memories and training I had are starting to come back and it’s making it a little easier to get through this class.”
However, her years of military experience are being complimented by the atmosphere surrounding the Truck Driver Training program. A small class size allows for attention to detail and the instructors are there for her at every turn.
“It’s going great. I’m having a lot of fun. The other students are getting along great. We talk, we laugh, we joke around, but we’re also a team. That’s another thing in the military — teamwork. Work as a team, build as a team, learn as a team and we’ll all succeed together as a team, so the comradery is really nice,” Reece said. “I love my instructors. They’re really good people, they’re down to earth. They’re not mean or shrewd or snobby or anything. We’ve got a pretty good gang going on.”
Connie Smith, the Coordinator of the Truck Driver Training Program, not only sets prospective students up with the program, but also does outreach work to find where the jobs are so there’s no delay in getting hired.
“You build up that trust and you know if you have any problems or questions after this class, I could call (Connie) any time. ... I know she would go out of her way and help me. Same as with the other instructors — Bill and Kim, Ken and Rodger. They’re all out there to help us and it helps that we have a smaller class, too.”
Reece is in her second week of the four-week program and her thoughts of the classwork and driving time are exceeding her expectations.
“Even if you’re down, they’ll pick you right back up and make you feel better. ... That was my high hopes. If I've got questions, they’re going to help me find the answer and I’m going to come out of here with confidence and get a certificate in the class and get my CDL and start a new chapter.”
With grants from the Veterans Affairs office, Reece’s only expenditure out of pocket is gas money for the commute and food and drink. Other than that, the course is covered and there are plenty of other grants and scholarships available for those attending the program.
The high demand for truck drivers is at an all-time high, Reece is more than ready to take on her new career.
“I do realize truck driving is what makes this economy work. It’s where you get your food, anything you have to pay for pretty much got here by a truck at some point or another. ... I won’t have to worry about find a (new career) somewhere else. There’s tons of options. In any state, too.”
To learn more about the Truck Driving Program at ICC, visit cce.icc.edu/pdi/truckdriver or contact Connie Smith at (309) 694-8555.