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Team Drivers for the DOD: Choosing a Partner

March 29th, 2024

Aaron Bloom

Aaron Bloom

Aaron joined the ATS team as the specialty freight manager. He came to the team with 22 years of experience handling arms, ammunition and explosives shipments (AA&E) for the Department of Defense. He first got into the ammo hauling business by answering a “help wanted” ad in the newspaper when that was still a thing. In that time, he’s transitioned from a very small family-owned business to a very large family-owned business while working with some of the very best and most dedicated drivers on the road – both company drivers and owner-operators. The trucks and technology have changed along the way, but the mission has remained the same since the start – supporting our warfighters in every way possible.

Far too often, truck drivers get wind of the major cash they can make hauling military freight for the Department of Defense (DOD) and they decide to jump into a partnership. Choosing a partner to run with at random is a recipe for disaster. 

Team driving isn’t a walk in the park. It’s challenging and it’s especially difficult as a DOD team. Moving freight for the DOD requires a whole new set of standards that you must follow. It’s strict and you’re closely monitored to ensure the freight is safely transported and delivered. 

Hauling freight for the DOD can be incredibly demanding; it requires you to flex and adapt in ways you may not have before — and in ways you certainly may not have had to adapt when hauling general freight. 

That’s why it’s crucial to carefully select a partner to haul team DOD freight with you. If you pick a random partner, your chances of lasting as a team are slim. If you’re thoughtful about choosing your partner, you can find success and make more money than you imagined. 

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), I work with DOD teams to ensure they safely haul our military freight and have what they need out on the road to succeed. In this article, you’ll hear from me about how to effectively choose a partner and gain your security clearance to haul freight for the military, but you’ll also hear from two sets of team drivers — a married couple and a team of two friends — on what makes their partnerships successful. 

When you’re finished reading, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to choose the best partner to move DOD freight with you.

Tarped load on flatbed trailer.

How to Choose a DOD Partner

As a team hauling DOD freight, there are extra steps you need to take to ensure the freight is protected at all times. Due to the sensitivity of the freight, the truck needs to keep moving. Drivers often operate in shifts— one driver taking the night shift and the other taking the day shift. 

The freight needs to be monitored round-the-clock, however. 

DOD freight is unpredictable. Dispatchers try to give you as much advance notice as possible, but loads might come last minute. Drivers have to adapt.

It takes a certain kind of driver to haul this freight, so you need to make sure you choose a partner who’s also suited to the lifestyle.

Ask potential partners these questions first: 

  • Where do you live? If you're working with a partner who doesn't live in the same state as you, it can make home time difficult. 
  • What do you do for fun? Being able to talk and do activities together will make "living" in the truck with them much easier and more enjoyable.
  • How do you like your truck to look? If you're specific about how your truck looks, you want to make sure you have a partner who feels the same way. The same goes for hygiene standards. 
  • Do you prefer driving at night or during the day? You need to be on the same page regarding who will be driving which shift. 
  • What are your goals? It's a good idea to have similar goals and priorities you want to accomplish as a team. 

Then, choose a partner who meets the following requirements: 

#1: Choose a Flexible Partner

You need to be an understanding driver to haul DOD freight. Look for an understanding driver who is flexible and can easily adapt to changing situations. Not only will you have to adapt together to meet freight demands, but you’ll also have to adapt to each other.

Sometimes your schedules will clash and you have to be willing to work with each other. 

You’re also going to be put on loads last minute, so you need a driver who’s comfortable making that switch quickly. 

#2: Choose an Attentive Partner

Truck drivers have to be vigilant in general, but this is especially true for DOD teams. You have to be on alert and attentive to your surroundings due to the sensitivity of the freight you’re hauling. It’s not often that trucks are followed, but you still need to have situational awareness. Choose a partner you feel can protect the freight and who you can trust. 

#3: Choose a Partner Who’s Compatible with You

Compatibility, for a DOD team, is more than someone who just laughs at your jokes and can hang out with you for days on end. You also need someone whose running style is compatible with yours. You need to have similar driving habits and be on the same page about finances, home time and splitting the workload. 

#4: Choose a Partner Who Will (Likely) Receive Clearance

It’s impossible to know who definitively will or will not receive security clearance. There’s no specific list of disqualifiers — there’s only an idea of what will most likely disqualify you from receiving security clearance. 

If you know your partner has some red flags in their background, you might want to think twice about choosing them as your partner. If they don’t get their clearance but you do, you’ll be stuck without a partner.

Related: Here are some common security clearance disqualifiers. 

Trailer silhouetted in a sunset.

Team Truck Driving Tips from a Married Couple 

Tami and her husband, Trevor, have been driving together for over 15 years. Trevor got his CDL when he was 18 and has been driving for almost four decades. 

Once the kids were out of the house, Tami decided to get her CDL as well to make more money together with her husband. She already rode with Trevor randomly throughout the year. Running team freight meant they could be together and maximize their income. 

They’ve hauled DOD freight in the past, but they became one of the first teams hauling DOD freight for ATS when the company became an approved carrier. 

Check out their tips. 

Tip #1: Be Intentional With Your Time

Be mindful about spending time together. We used to be able to plan our loads out and decide where to stop, rest, have a shower, and share a meal together and now everything is monitored. The DOD freight needs to keep moving and you need to send messages every time you stop and depart.

One person is always on duty and awake in the truck at all times, so we divide the workload into 12-hour shifts. Now we don’t get that time together, so we make the most of the time we do have together when we’re not moving a load. We get out of the truck together, grab a meal together, watch a movie or just breathe and destress. 

Tip #2: Know Each Other’s Boundaries 

You’re going to push each other’s buttons out on the road. You should have a good understanding of your partner's boundaries and how they think. Know what their breaking point is so you can avoid taking them to the brink and causing a major argument. 

When you throw random individuals together to make a team, they don’t really know each other. They might be pushing each other’s buttons without even trying to. Choose someone that you know well; married couples, siblings, and close friends can be very successful in this business.

Tip #3: Divide the Workload

Not only do you need to know how the other team member likes to run, but you also need to understand their strengths and weaknesses and divide the work accordingly. 

Two individuals in the truck might both feel like they’re the boss and that can cause friction. Decide what each of you will be responsible for so you can avoid stepping on the other’s toes. 

Team Truck Driving Tips from Best Friends

Casey and his best friend, Jack, have been friends for 10 years. They both have their CDL but it wasn’t until recently that they decided to start moving military freight for the DOD. Casey convinced Jack that it was the right move.

Casey had been in an accident previously and he didn’t want to end up in that situation again. Jack was the only one Casey trusted to be in his truck. 

Check out their tips for a successful partnership on the road.

Tip #1: Don’t Take Safety Risks

When you choose a partner to move freight with, you have to trust each other. You have to trust that your partner won’t take unnecessary risks while you’re sleeping in the sleeper berth. 

Every time you start up the truck, there’s the potential for something to go wrong. You have to be with a partner who won’t increase your chances of an accident by making poor choices on the road. Choose a partner who takes safety just as seriously as you do.

Tip #2: Take Care of Each Other

Being out on the road is hard and the job is demanding. Take care of each other as best you can. That means giving each other time and space when needed and respecting boundaries. It means respecting each other’s driving styles and not ragging on each other for the small things. It also means letting arguments go and knowing you won't ruin the friendship over a silly little argument. 

It also means when you take home time you give each other space to be apart. 

Tip #3: Work Together

The old cliche is true: Teamwork makes the dream work. Ultimately, you’re both there to make a good living. Work together to get the job done. 

If you can, help each other on tasks like securement and tarping. Ask for help when you need it and communicate effectively. 

At the same time, recognize the tasks you’re best at and the tasks your partner is best at. Divide responsibilities accordingly.

Military vehicles being hauled on a stepdeck trailer.

Getting Your DOD Security Clearance 

Once you’ve found a partner you mesh well with, you need to find a company to work with. Once you’re tied onto a carrier, you can apply for your security clearance using the SF-86.

One of you may get your security clearance before the other. You can’t run DOD freight until you both have your interim or full security clearance. If one of you has interim clearance and the other hasn’t heard anything, you can’t run DOD freight. You both need interim or full clearances. 

If your partner is denied full security clearance, it’s back to the drawing board to find a new partner. 

Your partner can reapply for security clearance if they fix the issue that prevented them from getting clearance, but in the meantime, you’ll have to wait for them and risk them being denied again. 

Moving Forward 

Moving freight for the DOD can be incredibly lucrative, but you have to find the right partner if you want to last in the industry. Make sure to choose a partner you’re compatible with and a partner you can trust to make safe driving decisions. 

Choosing a partner you butt heads with will more than likely only end up in turmoil. 

If you’re still evaluating if you’re ready to move freight for the DOD, learn more about the hard work it takes to move military freight.