The controlled chaos of war teaches soldiers the fundamental value of planning, discipline, patience and commitment. These same attributes can be successfully applied to all walks of life, including school transportation. So it’s no surprise that many transportation managers in our industry were trained in one of the branches of the U.S. military. Editorial Assistant Amy Carter’s excellent feature story “How Military Expertise Can Be Applied to Pupil Transportation,” beginning on pg. 20, profiles 11 former members of the U.S. armed forces and provides some insights into how their military training serves them in pupil transportation management. Some of the carryover value of the training is obvious. Moving large numbers of soldiers is not far removed from moving large numbers of students. The principles are much the same, although the circumstances are much different. Leadership skills are required in both endeavors. While military officers can bark out orders, school transportation directors have to be more diplomatic, using persuasion and tact rather than rank to manage their staffs. Are you ready for battle?
The biggest difference between the military and pupil transportation is that the armed forces provide soldiers with a perspective that few civilians could appreciate: being prepared to do battle on a daily basis. That battle-ready attitude is also essential in pupil transportation. The enemy, however, isn’t a foreign army or a band of international terrorists; it’s a letdown in a critical safety area, such as pre-trip inspections or loading and unloading procedures. The military understands that lives are at stake every day. We need to live by the same code. After all, the death of a school bus passenger resulting from a mistake by a careless bus driver or mechanic is just as real as the death of a soldier on the battlefield. We’ve all seen war movies in which military recruits are required to assemble their rifles in total darkness during basic training. Typically, the drill sergeant screams at the recruit who fails to finish the task in time or makes too much noise. Dismayed, the fumbling recruit practices harder than his peers and, by film’s end, has proven his mettle under fire and thanks the taskmaster for his “motivation.” The importance of basic training
There’s a parallel in pupil transportation. It’s the relentless pursuit of a better-trained driver and mechanic. Pre-service driver training can be justly compared to the military’s basic training. Drivers need to be drilled and tested until all of the critical safety procedures are as close to an automatic response as possible. Assembling a rifle in utter darkness is a soldier’s charge; evacuating passengers from a smoke-filled school bus would be the driver’s equivalent. Meanwhile, in-service training should reinforce those responses and expand the knowledge base of drivers, mechanics and all staff members. School districts and contractors should not allow drivers to transport children until they’re ready. Just because they’ve undergone the requisite hours of training and have obtained their CDLs doesn’t mean they’re up to the challenge. Train them, test them and train them some more. Under duress, bus drivers (and soldiers) will rely on their training to get them through a crisis. If properly trained, their response to an emergency will maximize the safety of their passengers and prevent the escalation of a crisis. The attacks of Sept. 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism are solemn reminders that we can never let down our guard. Although another terrorist attack on U.S. soil is still a possibility, the greater danger for pupil transportation professionals is developing a complacent attitude about their own school bus operations. Let’s learn from our friends in the military. Prepare for battle every day.