Officials from the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration visited Fort Leonard Wood Tuesday to explain and answer questions from service members-in-training regarding a new pilot program, which will study the feasibility, benefits, and safety impacts of allowing 18 to 20 year olds to operate commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce.

While many drivers in this age group drive CMVs intrastate (within a single state), drivers younger than 21 cannot currently drive in interstate (across state lines) operations.

The program, which was authorized through the FAST Act by Congress in December 2015, is in response to what DoT officials called a "dire need" of commercial truck drivers in the United States.

"There is a dire need in the economy right now for more drivers, because the economy is booming and goods have to get moved," Raymond Martinez, FMCSA administrator, said.

He said Congress and the White House chose to test this program with military truck drivers first given the large vehicle and safety training they receive.

Officials said the program's ultimate goal is to examine whether 18 to 20 year olds with relevant experience and training should be issued Commercial Drivers Licenses.

"I think there's some hesitation from the general public, saying, 'I'm not so sure I want an 18 year old driving a big 18-wheeler in interstate commerce,'" Ramirez said. "That (being) said, we see the high level of responsibility that is given to 18 year olds and 19 year olds in the military, in every area of the military. That's why I think Congress was smart, the White House was smart, to look at the military as a perfect test bed for this."

Director of External Affairs at FMCSA, Kyle Bonini, commented on the potential expansion of the under-21 pilot program to the civilian sector, assuming its success in the military.

Assuming the success of the pilot program, and the subsequent determination of the safety of 18 to 20 year old CMV drivers, the institution of training in the private sector similiar to that of military truck drivers may be explored, said Ramirez.

He added that he hopes to see the program become a mainstay in military training because of the opportunities it can provide to those not on Active Duty or transitioning out of service.

"These young (service members), when they leave the military, or if they finish their training here and go back to their communities, there should never be a day when they don't have a job," he said. "There is a place and a good salary and career for these people."

Sgt. 1st Class Terrell Isaac, who works as an instructor at Training Area 228 with 88M (truck driver) Soldiers, said many of his current and past trainees enjoy their work and plan on continuing their career in transportation after leaving the military.

"I think it's very, very important so that young Soldiers (are) able to get these kinds of experiences right here at this young age," he said. "I know when I came through, I didn't have that opportunity."

According to DoT officials, private companies actively pursue candidates who list military service on their resumes.

"They love folks that are coming out of the military with this type of experience because they know that they've got the discipline, they're safety-conscious, and they have experience driving large vehicles," Ramirez said.

He encouraged those service members above the age of 21 to obtain a CDL and guaranteed ease of finding employment in the private sector.

"Get your CDL, even if you don't plan on using it right away," he said. "I can guarantee you that you're going to get a job wherever you want to go, even if it's not what you want to do with your career -- that's the level of demand in the economy today for drivers."