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Initiative helps guardsmen, reservists obtain their CDL

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An initiative in Boone County is trying to match West Virginia's Army reservists and members of the National Guard with employers who want to hire them.

They're doing that by giving them a simple thing: a commercial driver's license, or CDL.

CDLs are required for drivers of any kind of commercial vehicle that weighs more than 26,000 pounds or carries potentially hazardous materials. The licenses are expensive to obtain, however. It can cost several thousand dollars to get the required training and testing out of the way.

That's cost prohibitive for many guardsmen and reservists, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't make good drivers. Many of them already drive large vehicles in their military jobs.

That training and experience is easily applicable to their civilian lives; it just doesn't come with a CDL.

The initiative by the Boone Career and Technical Center and Southern West Virginia Career and Technical Center plus the employer support division for the Guard and Reserve in West Virginia, will let military members get their CDL training for free, and in just a few days.

To Lt. Col. Joel Miltenberger, who is in charge of employer support of the Guard and Reserve, it was a natural fit.  

As he talked to employers across the state about their job openings, looking for opportunities to put members of the Guard and reserve into positions, he ran into a common answer.

"We found that an underlying theme was they said, 'Hey, if they have a CDL, I could hire them now,'" he said.

"What we're doing is taking people who have that skill set and basically giving them a little bit of assistance."

The program isn't for novices. They have to come with some experience driving these kinds of vehicles, although they can get help becoming more familiar with a specific type of truck at the training.

A pilot session in Buckhannon was funded with a grant from the state Department of Education, but officials wanted a more stable funding stream, so they went directly to the industries that could benefit from the employees the program will put into the marketplace.

This time around, the project is getting funding from the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, Builders Supply Association and Trucking Association.

Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer, adjutant general for West Virginia, said that's a testament to their support of the employees that the program will produce.

"They all continued to tell us they had this tremendous need for folks who have a CDL license and can pass a drug test," he said. "And we've got the population of people."

These employers are also apt to be supportive of an employee's need to take off for stretches of time to fulfill a military obligation.

"I've been in the military for 32 years, and this is the prime example of what we at the state and military level ought to be doing," Hoyer said. "We're all engaging for the purpose of creating opportunities for Guardsmen, reservists and potential veterans who are going to return home from active duty."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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