-  Image: Canva

Image: Canva

Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola has served in the Navy, worked in the automotive industry, and – after retirement from a Mercedes Benz dealership in 2017 – a Maine school bus driver and part-time motor coach operator.

The latest stop on the route of his career?

On Sept. 1, Troiola was elected national commander of the American Legion.

A Focus on Saving Veterans’ Lives

“My platform and No. 1 priority for my year as national commander will be tackling the toughest challenge facing veterans: veteran suicide,” Troiola said during a speech at the 103rd National Convention in Milwaukee.

In April, the American Legion teamed with Chip Ganassi Racing on a “Be the One” initiative to reduce veteran suicides.

“The American Legion is asking you to ‘Be the One,’” Troiola said. “And by you, I include every one of us, military and civilian alike. We all need to ‘Be the One’ to begin thinking, talking, and acting to save just one life.”

The initiative seeks to:

  • Destigmatize requests for mental-health support.
  • Provide peer-to-peer support and local community resources.
  • Create safe spaces for veterans to discuss their struggles.

“As the military changes, and as military issues change, so does The American Legion,” he said. “While the Legion continues to celebrate its past, it does so while also marching toward an evolving future, discovering ways to stay relevant and add even greater value to the lives of younger veterans.”

Background of Service

A life member of American Legion Post 1682 in Rockland County, N.Y., Troiola served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves from 1969 to 1974. He completed a tour aboard the USS Nitro, an auxiliary ammunition ship with the Sixth Fleet. Ultimately, he was honorably discharged as a boatswain’s mate third class.

He started his professional career as a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership. When he retired, he was director of service and parts at a car dealership in the New York metropolitan area. He didn’t stay home long, though. Eventually, he felt compelled to start a new career as a driver for the Falmouth School District in Maine.

Behind the Wheel

After retiring from a career in the automotive industry, Troiola found a new calling as a school bus driver in Maine. He's on leave from that gig while acting as national commander for the American Legion.  -  Photo: Vincent J. "Jim" Troiola

After retiring from a career in the automotive industry, Troiola found a new calling as a school bus driver in Maine. He's on leave from that gig while acting as national commander for the American Legion.

Photo: Vincent J. "Jim" Troiola

“I love to drive and always wondered what it would be like to drive a bus,” Troiola told School Bus Fleet. “My brother is a retired New York City transit driver. He had some influence. I also felt that I am a people person and would not have any issues with driving with students.”

So he answered an ad in 2017 for a job opportunity that included training for the commercial driver’s license. He took the road test in February 2018 and started driving.

His bus, a pusher, is a Thomas Built Buses HDX, part of a fleet of 26 that serves three schools on the same campus. He has two runs in the morning and two in the afternoon.

“I enjoy the kids. I have a great rapport with them,” he said. “Getting to know and understand them goes a long way with how they behave on the bus. I am lucky to have great kids. I am the first one they see when they start off the school day and how I greet them can have an effect on how their day will go.”

He’s on a one-year hiatus from those routes while serving as national commander of the American Legion.

“Not a good thing for them with the shortage of drivers,” Troiola noted.

But his absence serves a noble cause.

Taking Command

He accepted the chance to lead the American Legion for the next year because he considered it an extension of what he has thought all along: “I felt that by volunteering, I could make a difference in a veteran’s life, that would be rewarding.”

During the next year, Troiola expects to promote the “Be the One” effort as much as possible.

What does it mean to “Be the One?”

  • For a veteran, it means reaching out for help or calling a help line in times of crisis, such as the 988 emergency suicide hotline. There’s also an online chat site or veterans can text 838255.
  • For a spouse, relative, or caretaker, it means recognizing when the veteran is struggling and get them the help they need. Said Troiola: “You are in a position to not only see the risk, but have the trust of the veteran in his or her time of crisis.”
  • For fellow veterans, friends, and other civilians, it means being proactive to get veterans assistance. “Don’t assume someone else will act,” he said. “Take the initiative.”
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