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February 01, 2002  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How Military Expertise Can Be Applied to Pupil Transportation

Eleven former military officers describe how their training has helped prepare them for management roles in pupil transportation. Leading by example, prioritizing and setting goals are some of the key skills they have learned and applied.

by Amy Carter, Editorial Assistant


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A large number of retired U.S. military personnel have found a home in pupil transportation, where many of the lessons of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps can be transferred to the business of moving students in school buses. These ex-military officers say they learned the value of dedication, discipline and diligence in helping to defend the nation. While in the armed forces, these traits served them well. Here’s how 11 school transportation managers apply them to pupil transportation. Jim Moen
Transportation director
Guilford County Schools
Greensboro, N.C.
Service branch: U.S. Air Force Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 704
Students transported 38,500
Staff 723 “It was 30 short years,” jokes Jim Moen of his time in the U.S. Air Force, adding, “I’d go back in a minute.” Moen was an Air Force logistics officer, delivering parts for vehicle and building maintenance and other departments. He also participated on a committee aimed at finding ways to save time and money. “It used to take 58 steps to get a part to a maintenance mechanic on the flight line to fix an airplane. We cut it to four,” he explains. This increased the percentage of in-commission aircraft by 30 percent – “From about 50 to 60 percent in-commission rates to in the 90s,” says Moen. Having a hand in this highly successful project earned Moen a promotion to colonel. Though Moen is proud of that accomplishment, he says his greatest achievement in the military was the cultivation of a positive attitude. He has learned to look at obstacles as challenges and to emphasize the “we will” concept that the military taught him. “You will get the job done. You will go where you have to go. You will take the logistics with you when you go,” says Moen. “That is the particular mindset in the military.” Guy Champlin
Executive director of transportation and support services
Denver Public Schools
Service branch: U.S. Army Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 455
Students transported 24,000-plus
Staff 700-plus Guy Champlin’s 25 years of service in the U.S. Army prepared him well for the challenge of managing a school bus operation. In the Army, in fact, Champlin spent many years mastering the trade as a transportation officer before expanding his scope of responsibilities to the areas of supplies, maintenance and fuel management. After a brief period of retirement, Champlin began working in school transportation at Denver Public Schools. “It was just a natural progressive fit; managing a truck or the repair of a truck is not much different from managing the repair of a bus,” says Champlin. Champlin’s role is twofold: He manages the fleet activities, including terminal operations, driver and bus supervision, training and recruitment and vehicle routing, while also overseeing the district’s support services. This includes the receipt, storage, issuance and tracking of all district property. The ability to shoulder so many responsibilities and oversee such a large staff comes from Army training, says Champlin. “Those skills go hand-in-hand with a military background,” he explains. “It’s the focus of the military, especially the Army.” Champlin credits his success not only to his experience in the Army, but also to the education the military enabled him to pursue. “Because education and experience are very much emphasized in the services, not only do we have experience managing large numbers of people and handling lots of resources, but we’ve also got a pretty high education level,” says Champlin. Jim Vaglia
Transportation director
Prince William (Va.) County Public Schools
Service branch: U.S. Army Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 602
Students transported 38,500
Staff 740 Working in transportation is the family way for Jim Vaglia. His father was in the commercial bus business in Pennsylvania, and his daughter graduated from Virginia Tech in December and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. Vaglia served in the U.S. Army for 33 years, holding various positions, including field artillery officer and logistician in the Army Transportation Corps. He commanded transportation troops in Vietnam, Germany and the United States before retiring in 1989. Having worked in the transportation business for the last 16 years of his Army career, Vaglia says the move to school transportation was a natural one. “I had a lot of background information in transportation,” says Vaglia. “I had a feel for buses.” Vaglia also had the necessary experience to manage the fleet’s budget. “In the 1970s and 1980s, we certainly were concerned with running the U.S. Army almost like a business, in terms of budgets,” says Vaglia. But planning and adhering to a budget was no easy task, he says. “You had to defend the budget, and then once you received that budget, you had to manage your resources and your capability to do your mission within the budget you received,” explains Vaglia. “We did tons of planning.” In addition to money-management skills, Vaglia brought with him the ability to oversee a sizeable staff. “I was able to get along with large numbers of soldiers,” he says. “That’s part of what we do here in school bus transportation.” Proof of his management skills is in the number of drivers his district is able to retain. “In terms of driver fill, we’re probably at the best level we’ve been for three or four years,” he says. Antonio A. Rodriguez
Transportation director
Los Angeles Unified School District
Service branch: U.S. Army Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 2,600
Students transported 70,000
Staff 1,600 not including contractor drivers
Antonio Rodriguez has been working in computers and communication since long before the Internet and e-mail were everyday terms. In fact, Rodriguez worked on an early version of the Internet during his time in the U.S. Army. From where he was stationed in the Far East, he could receive electronic messages from Washington. “It was the first use of computers to route messages,” he explains. Recognizing the difference between school transportation and military service, Rodriguez understands that not everything he did in the military will work in his operation. “You can’t just bark out orders and get things done,” says Rodriguez. He explains that his role in school transportation requires more communication. “You have to be more of a leader and more of a motivator,” he says. Rodriguez tries to keep people focused. “Express a goal, express a mission and keep people working toward that mission and that goal,” he advises. In the service, Rodriguez learned the fundamental traits of a successful school transportation manager - time management, problem-solving skills and organization. “I think those skills helped in forming a good administration,” he says. “I’m lucky. I have 1,600 professionals who work for me, and they’re very good people. We take care of business.” Joe Reed
Assistant director of transportation and maintenance
School District of Palm Beach County West Palm Beach, Fla.
Service branch: U.S. Marine Corps Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 800
Students transported 63,000
Staff 900 total, 100-plus under his supervision in maintenance Joe Reed will quickly tell you that he transitioned into school transportation because, like everyone else, he needed a job. But, his background and experiences working with vehicles made him perfectly qualified to manage school bus maintenance at the School District of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach, Fla. Reed served in the Marine Corps for four years, including a 13-month stay in Vietnam. After training for almost nine months at the Naval Aviation School in Memphis, Tenn., he worked as a helicopter mechanic and crew chief. “My specialty was going to be engines, and then I got to my squadron and was further trained in helicopters,” he explains. With almost 30 years of experience maintaining trucks and buses, Reed is in his 16th year in school transportation. He brings with him a Marine Corps heritage of discipline and responsibility. “In the military, you’re always training or being trained in something,” says Reed. “Here it’s similar; we have rules and regulations to follow.” Reed is firm in his adherence to the maintenance regulations set by the state and local school boards. “If we were to be found lacking in following the guidelines for bus maintenance, they could withhold our state funding,” says Reed. Reed keeps a close watch on the vehicles he maintains. A brake job will never wait until the brakes are worn out. “We always know what conditions the brakes are in, so it’s never an issue,” he says. Reed emphasizes the use of top quality products, such as transmission and brake fluids, so that vehicles do not have problems as a result of “some low-bid non-functioning component, such as cheap motor oil.” Jim Camp
Transportation supervisor
Atkins (Ark.) School District
Service branch: U.S. Army Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 21
Students transported 750
Staff 14 Jim Camp worked in the U.S. Army as an applied engineer on helicopters. From 1969 to 1977, Camp was involved in the aircraft aviation division, where he says he gained valuable information about the skills needed to work in school transportation. Camp’s role in the Army was similar to the one he now occupies as a transportation manager. “As an applied engineer, I had to do a lot of planning of air trips,” explains Camp, who likens the process to scheduling school bus routes. Camp also served as a safety coordinator in the Army, which he said prepared him to run a safe, efficient school bus operation. “I try to run things efficiently for the betterment of safety. I’m really a stickler on safety,” says Camp. “I brought a lot of that with me from the military.” Camp credits his experiences in the Army for his leadership skills and his know-how in transportation logistics. “If it hadn’t been for the military, I probably wouldn’t have the leadership ability or expertise that I have,” he says. David Hoffman
Transportation director
Deer Park (Texas) Independent School District
Service branch: U.S. Navy Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 80
Students transported 3,500
Staff 75 David Hoffman has worked in education in some form since his days in the U.S. Navy. In the service, Hoffman worked on maintenance of aircraft weapons. After teaching for 12 years, he transitioned into school transportation and has been there since 1996. In addition to the logistic skills he developed working in transportation in the Navy, Hoffman believes his experiences dealing with military people and situations prepared him most for his managerial role in student transportation. “You see such a variety of people in any management situation, but the folks we manage in transportation are not the same as those a principal would manage,” says Hoffman. In the Navy, Hoffman was exposed to people from all over the country, with differing backgrounds and experiences. Managing that eclectic group of service men and women was invaluable practice for managing school transportation personnel. “I think the toughest part of my job is being able to manage people,” says Hoffman. Greg Liedl
Transportation coordinator
Bemidji (Minn.) Area Schools
Service branch: U.S. Air Force Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 87
Students transported 6,000
Staff 111 Greg Liedl’s military background may not consist of extensive transportation work, but his work in safety and security more than qualifies him to supervise the safe transport of the students in his district. Liedl worked in the security forces division of the Air Force, eventually retiring as a security forces supervisor. In the service, Liedl was in charge of training individuals and monitoring quality control, meaning he often reviewed the areas in which individuals had previously been trained to find weak areas that needed more work. Liedl used this approach at his first school transportation job in Alexandria, Minn., where he redesigned the district’s training process. “In the Air Force, we had a system where you did a lot of matching up of your training to documentation - what source you used,” he explains. “Just about every time we asked a question in the military, there had to be a source or a training manual that [you] could go back to for reference.” Leidl made a list of every task, the state mandated training requirements for that task and the sources or methods used for training. Using the list as a guideline, Leidl was able to ensure that his drivers received all of the necessary training, and was able to verify the source of that training. “Every time we updated one, we changed the dates at the top. That’s very indicative of Air Force forms,” explains Leidl. “They always had a date on them, so you knew what version you were using.” Jim Minihan
Transportation supervisor
Lakeland Central School District
Mohegan Lake, N.Y.
Service Branch: U.S. Marine Corps Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 124
Students transported 7,000-plus
Staff 140 The majority of Jim Minihan’s time, both in and out of the military, has been spent getting people where they need to be. During his two years of active service in the U.S. Marine Corps, his military specialty was basic electronics. As one of only two Marines stationed at the Great Lakes Training Command, Minihan quickly became involved in transportation - though not in the standard way. “My job was to be the driver for the commanding officer of school service command,” he explains. Minihan left the Marines during a period of downsizing, and agreed to remain on inactive reserve duty. Looking for a job with benefits, Minihan became a school bus driver. Because of his background in transportation in the service (and his experience driving for the volunteer fire department), he adapted very well to driving school buses and quickly moved to the administrative side of school transportation. He worked as a driver trainer, afternoon dispatcher and safety supervisor before becoming manager of the district. Minihan says he owes his success in student transportation to the lessons taught to him in the military. “The structure and discipline that I received in the Marine Corps are what got me here today,” he says. Most importantly, he learned how to keep calm under pressure. “Not a whole lot will rattle my cage,” he says. “Things get hectic and stuff like that, but you immediately prioritize and deal with your high priority issues and work down.” Minihan’s office walls are adorned with military posters, including one with the Marine Corps principles of leadership that he says he uses every day. David R. Wolfe
Director of student transportation
Omaha (Neb.) Public Schools
Service branch: U.S. Air Force Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 537
Students transported 11,800
Staff 312 David R. Wolfe spent 26 years in the Air Force, wearing many different hats. He was a pilot, headed a transportation squadron and served as the director of operations for the base in Omaha, Neb. For Wolfe, the transition into school transportation was a natural one. “Whether you’re moving airplanes across the world, or moving buses across town, [it’s] the same thing,” says Wolfe. “You need personnel, you need maintenance, you need training and all that.” Wolfe does not see it as a perfect match, but says, “It fits very well as far as the thought process of what you need to run an operation.” During his time in the military, Wolfe worked extensively with computers. Since joining the district in 1996, he has used his experience to implement a computerized routing system, which the district began using in 1997. Knowing first-hand the complex nature of routing and scheduling vehicles, Wolfe faced a daunting task. “With the new student assignment plan, I foresaw that we couldn’t keep up with it manually,” explains Wolfe. “Every elementary kid’s got six or eight different schools that he can go to. And it just became very involved,” he says. He was able to make it work, he says, because of his experience using computers in the Air Force. In the military, Wolfe grew accustomed to managing many tasks at one time, a skill he puts into use every day as he manages the operation and maintenance of more than 500 public service vehicles. Ben Biddle
Data assistant
Jessamine County Schools
Nicholasville, Ky.
Service branch: U.S. Navy Vital Statistics

Buses in fleet 107
Students transported 5,000
Staff 87 drivers Ben Biddle served in the U.S. Navy as a pharmacist and ran the pharmacy at a military hospital during his 13-month stay in Vietnam. After his retirement, Biddle was trained as a bus driver - an idea he got from his friend, a former assistant director of transportation at Jessamine County Schools. He has since worked his way up the ladder from dispatcher to manager of the district’s computerized routing system. Biddle does routing for the entire fleet, while also managing pre-school and kindergarten drivers and their routes. Biddle says his time in the service taught him the importance of priorities and how to handle tasks in an effective manner. “You have to sit down and look at the situation, analyze it, make decisions and act appropriately,” says Biddle. “That was taught during basic training and in the field, so I’ve used it in my personal and business life after that.” Biddle says the Navy’s approach to discipline became ingrained in him. “Just as a Marine is always a Marine, that’s the same with all branches of the service,” he says. “They teach you their way, and it lives with you the rest of your life.”

Marine Corps leadership principles

Jim Minihan, transportation supervisor at Lakeland Central School District in Mohegan Lake, N.Y., says that one of the most valuable lessons he learned while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps was the following list of leadership principles. He uses the principles daily in managing his 140-person staff. Take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your employees
Know yourself and seek self
Set the example
Develop your subordinates
Ensure that a job is understood, then supervise it and carry it through to completion
Know your employees and look after their welfare
Keep everyone informed
Set goals you can reach
Make sound and timely decisions
Know your job
Encourage teamwork


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