We honor a veteran’s remarkable journey

James Rogers retired as a Staff Sergeant in the Army after surviving serious injuries and enduring strenuous rehabilitation. He soon realized that surviving those injuries wouldn’t be the only challenge he faced as he left the military. As is the case with many veterans, the transition back home did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. He was a man without a mission.

Feeling empty

“In the military, you develop a deep sense of service. Serving in the military is a thankless job, but you love it. You don’t expect thanks. You do it because you have a love for your country.” When Rogers left the military, he lost that sense of purpose and that felt empty, emptier than he could have ever imagined.

To fill that void, he began to take pills. It got to a point where he was taking up to 24 pills per day. “I was in a real bad spot. I was on the cusp of suicide.”

Far too often this is the case for veterans who come out of military life and struggle with adjusting to civilian life. Sometimes it’s the monotony of normal life. Often times, it’s that lack of purpose. Many talk about missing the camaraderie of their fellow soldiers. Whatever the specifics, veterans far too often feel like outsiders when they return.

Luckily for Rogers, he had a support system at home to help him escape that dark place. “My wife and friends kicked me in the rear end and were always there for me.”

Finding a new way to serve his country

One key component to his sobriety: truck driving. “Trucking gave me a mission again. It saved my life. It really did.”

Just as with the military, trucking gave him a sense of service. “Nobody sees the guy who has been driving all day and all night. Like being a soldier, it’s a thankless job, but it’s gratifying knowing that you’re serving your country. Knowing that I’m hauling medicine or clothing or food that could really help someone means so much to me. They don’t know who I am, but I get to make that delivery and know that I got them what they needed. I potentially changed someone’s life.”

You can hear the gratitude in Rogers’ voice as he talks about truck driving. He’s especially grateful since being named Progressive’s 2018 Keys to Progress recipient, which awarded him his own truck so that he could start his own business as a driver. Since embarking on this new journey in life, he has also had to deal with the frustrations that all drivers eventually face, and he wants to help inspire change.

A call to the public

“The main point of frustration for me and my fellow drivers comes down to over-regulation. This is something that needs to be fixed. Truck drivers are the backbone of this country, and yet regulations choke us to death. We love what we do for our country. We love what we do for other people, for our families, but the regulation is extremely frustrating.”

If you take a look at the other driver features we’ve shared for Driver Appreciation Week, you’ll notice this frustration as a common theme. Speaking with Rogers’, in particular, you can’t help but feel frustrated for him. When you find out how hard he has worked and what he has had to endure throughout his service to this country as a soldier and as a truck driver, you want to do something about it. And that is exactly what Rogers thinks the trucking industry needs, help from the public.

Not too long ago, truck drivers were viewed as roadway heroes for their work delivering important goods and helping other drivers when a car broke down, or an accident occurred. Somewhere along the line, that perception changed. Now the public is more or less oblivious to the efforts and struggles of the truck driver.

“Truck drivers were at one time called ‘Guardians of the Road,’ and that’s kind of gone away. I think that has happened because of public perception. I am hopeful that it’s coming back around, though.”

Trucking’s transition

Rogers notes that the trucking industry is in the middle of an important transition period, which can be greatly attributed to the difficult job market in which so many find themselves. “You no longer just have good ol’ country boys or farmers. You’re actually having doctors and people with master’s degrees becoming truckers because they can’t find work in their field.”

This infusion of new types of drivers could be exactly what this industry needs. New voices and fresh perspectives may help move the needle. Speaking with Rogers, you get a sense that one type of driver could do a lot of good for this industry: more veterans. Their sense of duty, service, and camaraderie could help restore the public perception of drivers as “Guardians of the Road.”

Not only could more veterans lead to a better trucking industry, but it could also lead to happier veterans. In fact, Rogers has two pieces of advice for the men and women returning to civilian life. 1) Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and 2) Consider driving a truck. It may give you the mission you need.

Trucking and the military go hand in hand

He also wants to remind us all that the military and truck driving has always gone hand in hand. “Remember, President Eisenhower developed the interstate system for two reasons: for moving the United States military and for the transport of interstate commerce with 18 wheelers. Isn’t it kind of funny how those two parallel?”

Rogers feels that parallel every day that he’s out on the road. “I may not carry a weapon or have my boots in the sand, but I’m still here serving my country.”

So while the life of a soldier and that of a truck driver may typically be a thankless one, let’s all take a moment to give thanks the next time we see a veteran or a driver. That’s what this week is all about.