Staff Sgt. Reginald Alford, a Motor Transport Operator Course instructor with the 58th Transportation Battalion, explains preventative maintenance checks to Pvts. Justin Delossantos (center) and Max Case as they begin training to operate the M915, similar to a civilian tractor semi-trailer. It is one of two vehicle platforms on which trainees learn during the six week, three day course.
Staff Sgt. Reginald Alford, a Motor Transport Operator Course instructor with the 58th Transportation Battalion, explains preventative maintenance checks to Pvts. Justin Delossantos (center) and Max Case as they begin training to operate the M915, similar to a civilian tractor semi-trailer. It is one of two vehicle platforms on which trainees learn during the six week, three day course. (Photo Credit: Photo by Angi Betran, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — As a world-class military training site, Fort Leonard Wood has its share of firing ranges, obstacle courses and troop trails. Tucked in amongst all of that are miles of hilly roads and training pads, like large parking lots, where thousands of Soldiers learn to operate some of the Army’s largest, commercial vehicles.

Fort Leonard Wood is home to the 58th Transportation Battalion, the Army’s only motor transport operator advanced individual training unit. Headquartered out of Fort Lee, Virginia, the battalion is responsible for training Soldiers to become Army Motor Transport Operators — known by their military occupational specialty, 88M, or “88 Mikes,” as they’re commonly called.

To accomplish this, the battalion teaches the Motor Transport Operator Course, a six-week, three day introduction to the roles and responsibilities of an Army Motor Transport Operator, said Lamon Miller, MTOC chief.

“We want them to be multi-faceted,” Miller said. “We want them to feel confident, because a lot of Soldiers who come through here, this is their first time either getting a license, or they’ve never been in a vehicle like this. It’s new to them, we know, and with them coming in as novices, we have to make sure we provide them the intricate details of what an 88 Mike is.”

The 88 Mike MOS is one of the largest in the Army, Miller said, noting his unit annually trains roughly 4,500 to 4,900 Soldiers. Course attendees learn on two vehicle platforms: the M915 — which is similar to a civilian tractor semi-trailer — and the M1120 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck Load Handling System. Called an LHS for short, the vehicle has a folding hook arm and a flat rack that can be loaded on the ground and hydraulically lifted onto the back.

Before the Soldiers even touch one of those vehicles, though, Miller said they first learn the basics — including radio operating procedures and map reading — and hone some of their skills on a simulator.

“The unique thing is, the simulator has all the areas, all the convoy routes that we drive out on Fort Leonard Wood,” Miller said. “The Soldiers see that first before they actually get out and are expected to drive. They’ll see some familiarity once they’re out there.”

After their introduction to the vehicles, the trainees are first taught on the LHS.

“They’ll learn all the different parts of the LHS,” Miller said. “They also learn how to tie down a load. It’s important for an 88 Mike to ensure that their load is secure.”

Once they complete that block of training, they switch to the M915, Miller said.

“They learn how to couple and uncouple that vehicle,” he added. “We make sure they learn various backing operations, alley docking. They also do a written test and a hands-on performance test on both the LHS and the 915.”

Also included in the course, Miller said, is a culminating 72-hour field-training exercise.

“It’s giving them a mission, based off of what they learned throughout the course,” he said.

A final, cumulative assessment is performed by contractors as a way to validate the quality of instruction, Miller added.

Trainees attend the MTOC after completing Basic Combat Training at one of the five Army BCT installations. For someone tasked with learning to drive the military’s large, commercial vehicles, the isolated location and varying terrain found in the Missouri Ozarks is the perfect setting, said Pvt. Jacob Lyons, who is three weeks into the course after graduating BCT here.

Lyons said he is reminded of his BCT battle buddies as he drives around Fort Leonard Wood these days.

“You see all the areas you went to together,” he said. “We drive in some of the places where we had the Forge — long hills, dirt roads, bumpy — you get a really good feel for how to control these vehicles out there, how to drive them.”

Lyons, from Shelby, Ohio, joined the National Guard, and looks forward to being assigned to the same unit as his brother, who attended the MTOC in 2021. He said one of the keys to success in the course is “repetition, repetition, repetition.” One of the other keys is the instructors.

“The instructors are really good — top of the line,” he said. “They help a lot.”

Pvt. Aaron King, from Bakersfield, California, is learning alongside Lyons. King said he chose the 88 Mike career field because he thought it would be a lot of fun.

“I saw it as a pretty good opportunity to do something I like to do,” he said. “Most of my jobs before this involved driving, so this is a good experience.”

For the instructors, there are many good reasons why teaching 88 Mikes is a rewarding job.

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Fritz is completing his second tour as an MTOC instructor at Fort Leonard Wood — he previously taught here from 2015 to 2018. Fritz said he likes setting the Army’s newest Soldiers up for success.

“I make the most out of being the first, or one of the first, NCOs, leaders, these Soldiers interact with, so we can set the standard with them on that leadership aspect — show them what right looks like,” he said.

Another instructor, Staff Sgt. Jacqulinne Rambo, said she gets a sense of accomplishment when the trainees succeed.

“They come here, some of them are scared — they haven’t driven or they’re not used to being away from home,” she said. “They come in and they knock it out of the park, and I can say that I helped them — that’s a good feeling.”

Like other Army AIT courses, the instructor population is augmented by drill sergeants, who keep the attendees physically fit and well-disciplined while they learn their new craft. Sgt. 1st Class Vladimir Mateo is one of those drill sergeants.

“We take care of them, instill pride and just make sure we are being the best role models for them, so when they go out to their units, they’re the best Soldiers they can possibly be,” he said.

Mateo, who has filled his current role for about eight months, said, like the instructors, every drill sergeant in the battalion is an 88 Mike — Mateo attended the MTOC here in 2007 — and there are some obvious strengths to that.

“I feel like when we interact with the Soldiers, we can speak from experience,” he said.

For graduates of the course, an 88 Mike has many options when it comes to civilian work, Miller said, noting half of his student population is made up of National Guard and Reserve Soldiers — many of them work in the civilian transportation sector. A military skills test waiver program allows service members applying for a civilian commercial driver’s license to skip the skills test, and take only the written test in certain states.

“We’re one of the leaders in the Army with the certification process,” said Miller, a retired 88 Mike, himself, who attended the same course when he first arrived at Fort Leonard Wood as a new Soldier in 1984. “That makes 88 Mikes very marketable. Transportation is a highly-important skill, as we’re seeing with all of the supply chain issues, all of the truck drivers needed during the pandemic — if we don’t move, nothing happens.”