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James Walker bleeds red, white, and blue. As a young man, Walker served under the military occupation code 63F, Army Recovery Specialist, from 1979-1982. In the years just post-Vietnam, this position was especially important to the military. Walker performed operator maintenance on all types of wreckers, recovery vehicles, and associated equipment.
“We used an M-88 tank and got other tanks and brought them back,” Walker says. “We had a 28-wheel tractor-trailer, that was my specialty.”
Walker and his unit spent three years recovering vehicles and sending them back to his base at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was three proud years for Walker—three that helped guide the course of his life.
“I probably would have made a career out of the military, if I hadn’t not gotten married,” Walker says.
Walker came back to the Midwest and began a life with his now-wife of 37 years, Bonnie. Transitioning from military service to civilian life was not easy.
“It was awfully hard for me to come out of the military and have someone stand over my shoulder and tell me what to do,” Walker says.
Instead, he turned to a profession with a natural fit for his skill set, and his mind set. One in which he could be his own boss. As a truck driver, Walter served his country by moving supplies from place to place. He had learned to drive a truck years before from “the guy across the street.” The guy was Denzil Edwards, Bonnie’s father.
In 2003, he dropped off a resume at Custom Diesel Drivers’ Training. At that point, he was tired of driving and wanted to try a new profession. Five years later, then-director Walt Craft called Walker and wanted to speak with him.
Walker accepted a position as an instructor for one year before then-president Roger Alger asked Walker if he was interested in buying the business. Walker was not, but Alger told Craft that Walker should look into all the company files and learn as much as he could about the business. One year later Walker bought the company, with some financial help from Alger.
Under Walker’s ownership, the business has grown from 41 students in his first year to more than 300 students annually. Many of those students are veterans. Walker and his employees work hand-in-hand with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to obtain funding for veterans interested in studying to get a commercial driver’s license. They also maintain relationships with other trucking companies and serve as an unofficial unemployment office for their students, since they have knowledge of who is hiring in the industry. Walker says most trucking companies are veteran- friendly, and trucking is a good way for someone coming out of the military to earn a decent income and be their own boss.
They also created a commemorative truck, featuring an image of a soldier on the cab and an image of an American flag on the trailer. The company displays this truck as a symbol of gratitude at veteran-friendly events, such as those with the First Responders Foundation, whenever requested.
“I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in if people hadn’t helped me out,” Walker says. “So I try to help out as many people as I can.”
Custom Diesel Drivers Training, Inc.
14615 Cornhusker Rd., Omaha, NE 68138 402.894.1400