FORT DRUM, N.Y. - A new program at Fort Drum will teach Soldiers to take the wheel and drive to their futures.

In an effort to enhance educational opportunities for Fort Drum Soldiers, National Tractor Trailer School, based in Liverpool, will offer a commercial driver license course on post.
The first class will begin May 19.

"We're bringing the program in not just for those leaving the service; we're hoping that by providing the CDL certification for the Soldiers still on active duty that they can be a greater asset to their units and can enhance their contributions to the mission of the unit," said Lorrie Guler, transition services manager for Army Career and Alumni Program.

"There are times when units are at the port in the process of deploying and redeploying that there is a need for individuals with a CDL, and they have to wait for civilian drivers to come in," she explained. "Hopefully, in this situation, units would be able to use their Soldiers with CDLs."

Guler talked about the advantages the new class can provide to Soldiers who may be interested in driving as a career, both in the Army and after they leave the service.

"As far as Soldiers who are transitioning, if they already have this certification, they are more marketable when they leave the service," Guler said. "We came up with this idea when we were thinking about programs other than degree-producing programs that can help Soldiers become more marketable as they leave the military.

"And about the same time I was thinking about that, I had a recruiter come in and talk about a program (that) was already in place with the Marines, where they bring certification programs onto an installation," she added. "And I said, 'why can't we do that here at Fort Drum''"

After a year of working to obtain authorization to offer courses on Fort Drum, NTTS President Harry Kowalchyk and William Mocarski met with Guler and Joe Agresti, Fort Drum education officer, to work out details of the pilot course.

Guler said this program is the first step in a process. If it is successful, she said, other training programs may come onto Fort Drum and possibly other installations in the future.

"There is always a sharing of best practices between installations and other services, and if we find out it works here, then hopefully we can share this program with others," Guler said.

Classes will meet in the ACAP classroom in Clark Hall with trucks being staged in the Clark Hall parking lot. The 225-hour CDL course will last 13 weeks.

"The training will be right here on Fort Drum, so it will be a lot more convenient for Soldiers," said Kimberly Sather, NTTS enrollment director. "They can train in a very short period of time while still performing their military obligations and get their CDL license at the same time."

The goal is to start with eight students, who will be in the classroom together for two weeknights and train one day on the weekend.

"It took a lot of time, patience and planning to make this happen," Sather said. "The program is also a twofold advantage for the Soldiers. It will allow them to operate different machinery and also give them an extra marketable skill once they leave the military.

"And with this federal CDL, they can take the license anywhere in the country and be able to drive either locally, regionally or coast to coast," she added. "There are a lot of jobs in the trucking industry, and this is a great program to get the training."

Soldiers will be able to use Tuition Assistance funds if they qualify and can use their GI Bill if necessary to cover any remaining costs.

Soldiers who are interested in registering for classes may call Doug McKenzie at 772-2011.