U.S. Army Special Operations veteran Brandon Meredith still served as a civil affairs specialist in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in January. Nine months later, he’s not only a successful truck driver, he’s an elite chemical hauler for Slay Transportation with two driver of the month awards who already is training drivers in Fayetteville, North Carolina—and hoping to represent tank truckers as the next Transition Trucking champion.
Meredith is one of five finalists for the 2023 “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence” award, presented by Kenworth, Fastport, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative. They will crown a winner—and award a Kenworth T680 Signature Edition truck as the grandest prize—Dec. 15 in Washington, D.C., after online voting Nov. 1 to Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) that helps determine the winner.
“[Winning] would be an incredible honor,” Meredith told Fleet Maintenance's sister publication, Bulk Transporter. “It’d highlight a field that’s not as recognizable as other truck-driving avenues. I tell people all the time how interested I am in this segment, especially now that I’m in it—and it isn’t Groundhog Day to me. I’m always out doing different things, going to different places, and unloading different products, and you need to be very attentive safety-wise.
“So I feel like I have an important mission when I’m out here.”
He also feels a powerful connection to his paternal past. Meredith’s father and grandfather both drove tractors, and one of his first jobs at 16 years old was at an Illinois truck stop. “It’s something I always had an interest in. I just had a detour through the military for 20 years,” he quipped. His service included time as an infantry soldier and recruiter, and he spent the last 13 years in special operations, also training as a combat medic. But after two decades, he was eager for a new adventure, and his family was ready for a change.
“This is a little bit more predictable than the military lifestyle,” Meredith said.
To prepare for his new life as a bulk hauler, Meredith enrolled in a CDL training course through Fayetteville Technical Community College’s Transition Tech program for transitioning military service members, and the Army’s Career Skills program, which allowed him to complete the 10-week, 400-hour course while winding down active duty. “I had a supportive chain of command,” he said. “All my supervisors, and their supervisors, were very supportive of what I wanted to do. They said, ‘He gave us 20 years, and we’re going to take care of him.’”
Eric Smith, FTCC’s CDL program director, took care of Meredith after he graduated with honors, recommending him to Sherry Fulton, Slay terminal manager in Fayetteville, who’s been working with FTCC to recruit rookie drivers through a new Slay initiative. “It something we’re testing the water on at Slay,” Fulton said. “And I’m always looking for veterans because of the discipline and structure the military provides.
“They tend to make excellent truck drivers.”
That’s why Slay takes pride in actively pursuing veterans, Fulton noted. Even still, she was “very impressed” by Meredith in his interview—and quickly jumped at the opportunity to bring him on board. “I’ve been with Slay almost 18 years, so I’ve had interviews with all kinds—and very few produced people like Brandon,” she said. “He’s a good guy, and he gives it his all. He did it for the military, and he’s doing it for us.”
Prepared to lead
Fulton hired Meredith on Feb. 1. His trainer said he was ready to drive after three weeks, but Slay didn’t have a truck available, so he happily rode along for three more weeks. “I was totally OK with that, because, in my mind, I want to be 100% comfortable with everything,” he said. “There’s a lot involved with bulk transport, and the different kinds of unloads, whether it be a pump on the truck, a plant pump, or using air to compress the tank to air off a load. There’s a lot of nuance to the different kinds of unloads we do.”
The challenge is why he always saw himself in a tank truck. He’s the adventurer, problem solver, and provider from National Tank Truck Carriers’ new branding campaign all in one.
“I knew I didn’t want to bump docks with a big box trailer,” Meredith said. “I wanted something that would keep me on my toes.” Now he’s hauling resins, and other hazardous and non-hazardous products, to wood and fiberglass manufacturing plants in a 2019 Freightliner Cascadia. He started training drivers in July. “He’s the first person to be certified as a trainer in such a short tenure with us,” Fulton said. “We typically require drivers to have much longer-standing employment here before we entertain transitioning them to the training team.
“But he just has such great leadership qualities about him.”
Brad Bentley isn’t surprised. The Fastport president says military professionals are well-prepared for trucking careers, and Meredith’s high character was apparent when they gathered in Ohio to reveal the finalists. Fulton calls him a natural “troubleshooter” who’s always willing to go “above and beyond.” Meredith says veterans excel as truckers because they’re accustomed to operating with integrity—without the need for oversight—and they thrive on routine, so pre- and post-trip inspections are instinctive.
“I know what I have to do, and I get it done,” Meredith confirmed.
Man on a mission
Like other military veterans, Meredith isn’t easily dissuaded from completing his mission, or rattled by other drivers on the road or in his cab. A mechanic recently asked if he feels anxious while riding with a greenhorn. He laughed. “I said, ‘Not really. I’ve been shot at by RPGs in Afghanistan, so this isn’t bad,” he joked. Still, he’s quick to credit the Army’s Career Skills program—which he calls a “gamechanger” for transitioning personnel—for helping him achieve his goal, and FTCC’s Transition Tech for nominating him for this award.
“It’s neat his entry came from a school and not a fleet,” Bentley said. “And they did a nice job. The fact that a local news station did a clip on him probably helped him in the contest because not everybody has a video to submit.” Fulton says no one is more deserving than Meredith, but they know he’s facing other impressive individuals from larger companies—CRST, Prime, Stevens Transport, and Werner—so they’re doing everything possible to spread the word, including promoting his bid with an ad campaign, reaching out to state officials, and appealing to the industry’s leading publication for support.
“I give Brandon credit,” Bentley said. “He’s up against people from Werner and Stevens, who’ve had winners in the past [combining for five of the first seven] and do a good job marketing their candidates, but he’s been active on LinkedIn and connected with a lot of people since we were in Ohio. And last year proved someone from a small fleet can win it. Ashley Leiva, a female Army combat veteran, hauls for a small energy company [Draco Energy].”
Collecting the most public votes will have helped sway the selection committees’ final determination, and a win would bring “much-needed” attention to the chemical-hauling segment, Fulton insisted—a role for which Bentley is confident he’s well-suited. “He’ll represent his company, his branch of the service, and the industry very well,” he predicted.
For Meredith, securing the grand prize also would help him achieve another dream—becoming a small business owner.
But if he does take home the Kenworth T680, and transitions from company driver to owner-operator, he’s not going anywhere, he vowed. He’s appreciative of the opportunity Slay gave him, when other tank truck carriers wanted more experience—and loyalty is another military trait.
“I would definitely stay where I’m at,” he said.
“Slay took a chance on me, and I admire the company, I enjoy the work environment, and I really like my job. I love coming to work.”
This article was originally published on BulkTransporter.