FORT KNOX, Ky. –
U.S. Army Mobile Exhibit Company Soldiers are preparing for the upcoming commercial driver's license course in October.
The MEC includes a fleet of 18-wheelers that serve as mobile Army displays, connecting America with its Army at venues nationwide. MEC Soldiers are part of the Mission Support Battalion and train to operate the semi-trailers during a course conducted by the battalion.
The MEC fulfills requests nationwide to provide interactive, engaging mobile exhibits at local high schools, college fairs, festivals, and sporting events that highlight the U.S. Army and support the U.S. Army Recruiting Command's accessions mission.
The company consists of 22 trailer assets, including an Extreme Truck, portable band stage, air rescue simulation, and an entire asset dedicated to showcasing how the Army utilizes the most recent advancements in STEM.
MEC Soldiers drive more than 500,000 miles each year. That journey begins with an in-house course on basic vehicle operations and regulations covering driving and driving safely.
Under the direction of former MEC exhibitor Mark Sullians, the new class of commercial drivers will learn everything it takes to operate the MEC fleet. Safety measures are emphasized to operate sixty-five feet of a trailer, weighing almost 62,000 pounds and carrying 300 gallons of gas. Maintaining a safe driving distance, air brake control, shifting, and load disbursement are critical safety elements students are introduced to and reinforced throughout the course.
"They can't just get behind the wheel," Sullians said. "There is basic safety and protocol information that needs to be addressed, and behind the wheel of a trailer is not where you want to learn it."
A subject matter expert with the exhibit trailers, Sullians has worked in the MSB headquarters as the commercial driver and training instructor. To date, he has certified over 30 Soldiers.
Students in the course are all MEC exhibitors and U.S. Army Recruiters. The course is five and a half weeks long, with the first week in the classroom.
Before starting the course, the students must pass a Department of Transportation examination to assess their fundamental understanding and general knowledge of operating large trailers.
Weeks two through five are entirely hands-on, training Soldiers with the identical MEC vehicles they will use for missions. The course is based on state regulations, and the Soldiers' certifications are valid for four years.
"I find, for students, the hardest part of the course when getting started is learning how to shift. Many students have never driven a standard transmission vehicle before, and shifting tends to be one of the biggest learning curves," said Sullians.
To be certified, students must pass a second DOT test given by a local state trooper. This skills test includes a 100-foot straight line back in, parallel parking, and a general knowledge test. Upon passing, the students receive their certification, are recognized by the battalion commander, and prepare for their first mobile mission.
Per Army regulations, all mobile trailers are operated by drivers in teams of two, and drivers are not allowed to drive more than 585 miles and ten hours per day. In keeping with those regulations, MEC drivers carefully map out routes before their travels.
In addition to the focus on safety, Gerald Barnett, a retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, supports the MEC mission from the rear as the battalion's Maintenance Officer. Barnett ensures there are maintenance locations and repair shops close to mission locations, provides fueling options, and assists in keeping track of repairs needed on the assets.
"I love what I do," said Barnett. "These soldiers work so hard and are always on the go. I tell them I am always a phone call away."
Once on the road, the Soldiers are responsible for driving the assets, basic onsite repairs, and, once they reach the destination, the set-up, exhibiting, and dissembling of the asset. Then, it is off to the following location.
"The best part of my job is seeing the look on the Soldiers' faces towards the end of the course when they realize not only are they driving this huge trailer, but they are in full control! Obtaining a CDL license is not easy, and I am privileged to be able to be part of the process that puts skilled confidant exhibits on the road," Sullians said.
The Mobile Exhibit Company is a huge asset to the recruiting mission. Recruiters at the local level can talk about the over 150 career opportunities the Army has to offer, but when a 65-foot trailer sporting that Army star pulls into a local high school, the conversation comes to life.
The U.S. Army Mission Support Battalion conducts professional exhibits and recruiting outreach to generate leads and enhance event activations for Army recruiting. The U.S. Army Mobile Exhibit Company's role in the accessions mission offers prospective Soldiers the opportunity to engage with their local recruiting battalion representees and talk to Soldiers who travel the nation as part of their active-duty service while sharing their Army story.
For more information about the Mission Support Battalion or the Mobile Exhibit Company, contact Public Affairs at 502-956-5445