Jason Shultz knew what he wanted when he came to Miller-Motte Technical College for CDL training. “I had been a project manager in the telecommunications industry for almost 20 years,” he said. After a layoff in June of 2015, Jason was ready for a new adventure. He decided to follow his lifelong dream and see the country.
What made Jason choose Miller-Motte’s Class A Tractor-Trailer program? He was impressed with the training equipment and small class sizes. He also felt training with Miller-Motte would allow him the freedom to work wherever he wanted after he completed the program.
Jason also wanted to learn from someone who had been on the road and understood the lifestyle and the mentality that comes with being a professional truck driver. Jason admits that at the start of the program, his own background as a volunteer paramedic and crash truck driver made him overly confident. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got this. This is a piece of cake.’” His first time behind the wheel was eye-opening and a little overwhelming. “Pulling out onto the main road…I just about stalled the truck out and ran over the curb with the back tire. At that point, the fear kind of set in.” The guidance provided by his program instructor, Herb, helped Jason stay focused as he learned how to safely operate an 18-wheeler. Jason referred to Herb as “the drill sergeant” because of his tough love approach to teaching. “Even though he would be on you...you knew it was for your own good. I recognized that from the get-go. Herb did make a statement one time that he was so tough because we’re out here training, and his wife could very well be out on the road at the exact same time.”
Jason’s instructor remained an important resource not only while Jason was in school, but also when Jason really needed him down the road. “He was a good student,” said Herb. “Very determined. One of those guys that when I said, ‘Class ends at 5:30,’ he said, ‘Can we have 30 more minutes?’ He was always here on time and always wanted to stay late.”
Jason earned his CDL and began driving. Unfortunately, one day something unexpected happened. Jason describes it as getting into “a little bit of an accident” when he was off duty from work. It started with a cut on his foot. Jason put off going to the doctor but when he decided to get it checked out, the results were very serious. He got an infection and by the time he got to the ER, Jason was in septic shock. “It was an emergency surgery to remove my leg below the knee,” he says. He was surprised and disheartened because his ultimate goal was to own his own business and truck, or even a fleet of trucks, in the future. He was convinced it would never happen and that he would never drive a tractor-trailer again. With the support of his family, Jason was ready to accept a new life—behind a desk.
Following his accident, a utility company hired Jason to work as a technical support representative. On a routine visit to the on-site company clinic, Jason mentioned that he used to be a tractor-trailer driver, but couldn’t drive anymore. He was shocked when the clinic doctor said it was possible he still could pursue a trucking career. “He told me I could apply for what’s called a Skills Performance Evaluation,” said Jason. There were a lot of logistics and requirements to overcome before he could drive a big rig again, but there was hope. Jason was motivated by a quote from The Shawshank Redemption: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” He decided to do whatever he could to pursue his dream. “I knew that this was something that I was going to have to get over…move forward and learn how to make adjustments,” said Jason.
To comply with Federal Department of Transportation requirements, Jason had to first meet with an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, GA, and then pass a road test in Columbia, TN. The appointment with the surgeon was simple, but the road test wasn’t so easy. That’s when he decided to enlist the help of his Miller-Motte Technical College program instructor. Herb can still recall when he first heard about Jason’s situation. Herb said, “When I found out, I called Jason and said, ‘What’s going on? Give me the rundown.’ Jason said, ‘I’m not going to give up.’”
Jason and Herb had kept in touch, even though it had been over a year since he completed his training. “Herb and I are still really good friends and I just asked him, ‘I need to find a way to get a truck and somebody to get me to Columbia; what can we do?’” Jason’s situation posed a unique challenge, but Miller-Motte Technical College and Herb didn’t hesitate to help a former student in need.
Jason couldn’t have been more impressed with how fast Herb and the Miller-Motte Chattanooga campus made things happen. At the time, Miller-Motte had not done anything like this before, but didn’t let the circumstances or red tape slow down the process. “They jumped through hoops,” said Jason. One challenge was getting an automatic transmission truck that Jason could drive with his prosthetic. “At the time, all the trucks at Miller-Motte had 10-speed manual transmissions,” he says. Within two days, the campus secured necessary approvals from the national program director and acquired a brand-new truck. Not only did the Miller-Motte campus administration quickly obtain the vehicle on Jason’s behalf, they insured the truck, finalized all necessary paperwork and Herb even volunteered to drive Jason three hours from Chattanooga to Columbia for his test. “If it wasn’t for Miller-Motte, I don’t know that I would have been able to do it…even if I could rent a truck, I couldn’t get it to Columbia for my test,” said Jason. “I really wanted to see him succeed,” said Herb. “I said, ‘I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do. Don’t worry about that.’”
Jason passed a rigorous test that involved a standard pre-trip inspection, demonstrating his backing skills and elements above and beyond a standard CDL evaluation. “He had to actually get under the trailer…uncouple the truck and trailer and they also had him do parallel parking. That’s not something they normally make a student do,” said Herb. “He nailed it. No problems.” Today when people meet Jason, they say, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration.” However, Jason claims he truly doesn’t feel that way. The way he looks at it, he’s just doing what other people in his family have done. His father and other family members were truck drivers too. He is grateful for the parts of the country he’s already seen. He’s gotten to travel “pretty much all over the Midwest, up into New England…as far west as Houston…I’ve been in Florida and I loved it,” he says.
As far as any advice he’d offer someone who wants to drive professionally, he says to go for it. He also says Miller-Motte is great place to learn because of “the hands-on experience, the one-on-one time and the instructor was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for better,” said Jason. According to Herb, the feelings are mutual. “He’s a go-getter. I think any company that ends up with him…they’re lucky to have him because he’s a determined individual.”
This school is regulated as a commercial motor carrier by the US DOT and THEC. It takes fewer than 300 hours to complete this program; therefore it is not eligible for Title IV funding. This program is not within the scope of ACICS accreditation.