Professional drivers and trucking companies give so much to the nation. Without them, the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach would be nearly impossible. Veterans’ wreaths move by planes, trains, ships, and livestock trailers, but trucks and their professional drivers transport the lion’s share of America's respect. In 2022, to be specific, 609 truckloads of wreaths were delivered, representing 439 different carriers.
In November and December, one of the busiest periods of the year for the transportation sector, the Wreaths Across America mission brings drivers together in an effort of unparalleled unity. With a positive, “can-do” work ethic, these professionals make it possible for Americans to honor millions of veterans laid to rest at home and overseas. In 2023, with over 3,700 participating locations, in addition to Arlington National Cemetery, transportation logistics are immense.
Many of these drivers are military veterans and say the truckload of fresh balsam-fir wreaths is the most precious cargo they transport in their careers. Wreaths Across America shares their stories and what motivates them to serve and succeed in the “Trucking Tributes” feature online and on Wreaths Across America Radio.
Monica Cato is a Senior Manager with Driver Personnel, and Aaron Waterman is the Director of Operations for Dedicated Contract Services with J.B. Hunt Transport. Monica and Aaron were recent guests of Wreaths Across America for the annual Stem to Stone event held in Maine every July. On behalf of their company, they accepted the coveted James Prout Spirit of Giving Award. J.B. Hunt has been involved with hauling America’s respect since 2014 with their first load of veterans wreaths, and today, they haul over forty loads.
“J.B. Hunt’s commitment to our veterans is quite easy. It’s ingrained in our company culture that that starts with our founder, who was a veteran and a driver,” Aaron explains. “We spend a lot of time in the course of our year planning things to help give resources back to our veterans, whether it’s transitioning active-duty or reserves back into the workforce or support with how to navigate through our company systems. We have policies that help our members deploy with pay differentials, and then we have multiple ceremonies throughout the year to honor them. We’ve made the Friendly Military Employer list for sixteen consecutive years, and we’re proud of that as a company.” In fact, one out of every seven employees at J.B. Hunt is a veteran. Aaron is a veteran of the United States Army, having served in the Infantry on deployments to Bosnia and Kosovo. “I was lucky enough when I got out of the military to find a company like J.B. Hunt, and I’ve been with them for twenty-two years. I can tell you I would not have been here for twenty-two years had they not been such a good, military-friendly employer.”
Monica, while not a military veteran herself, boasts of her family’s legacy of military service. “My entire family has been in one branch of the military or another. The only one we’re missing I think, is the Coast Guard,” she shared with a chuckle. “My dad was a proud Marine who fought in Vietnam, one of my nephews served in the Air Force right out of high school, and my younger nephew is starting the process of joining the National Guard. Grandparents, cousins, you name it, there’s a rich military history in my family, and I’m a proud American who is proud of our military.”
As a huge contributing member of the Wreaths Across America Honor Fleet, the work for J.B. Hunt begins in the summer every year, as Monica explains. “I get things started in June, and we open our nominations for drivers. Once we know who the drivers are, we start determining where our key exchange ceremonies will be. Once those key-exchange ceremonies are done, and the loads are on their way to their destination, we have an arrival ceremony the day before National Wreath-laying Day, and a bunch of our employees go out to greet the truck, cheering, clapping, and waving flags. Each year, our marketing department creates new truck and trailer wraps, and this year, on our truck, you’ll see the slogan, ‘Your Service Drives Us,’ and a military veteran will be selected to drive that truck during his or her career with J.B. Hunt.”
It's more than trucks that accomplish the mission for J.B. Hunt. Aaron describes their intermodal business system. “We stage rail containers in Maine so that they can be loaded, and we have shuttle drivers who put them onto the railroad and pick them up, so the railroad companies we work are a big part of getting wreaths to the West Coast.”
Despite their longevity supporting the Wreaths Across America mission, Monica and Aaron said their trip to Maine for Stem to Stone was eye-opening. “I thought that I had a great understanding of Wreaths Across America as an organization, but then we got up there, and I realized it’s a year-long effort and Gold Star families and volunteers are critical to its operation. We went to the factory and saw how the wreath was made and the meaning behind its sections. We toured the museum too, and if I thought I had a good understanding, I have a better one now, and I can speak to our leadership when we come to the table to discuss what we’re going to do.”
“What was really neat for me was to tour the tip land,” Monica contributed. “The tip land is full of all kinds of memorials, and we enjoyed seeing the Mile of Flags that borders the tip land. I got to hang a dog tag for my father. There are just so many things to see that honor veterans.” Aaron echoed her sentiment. “It’s really amazing to see the tip land because Wreaths Across America and the Worcester family don’t have to do this. To see all the little different things they do to honor our veterans besides the wreaths in the participating cemeteries is really moving.”
You can hear Monica and Aaron’s interview on Trucking Tributes, heard every Truckin’ Tuesday at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM on Wreaths Across America Radio.