Lasting legacy | 9/11 special report

Todd Dills and Max Kvidera | September 06, 2011

Driver camaraderie

The 9/11 attacks brought the country together at a time of waning national coherence. “I think it was so good to see the flags and the camaraderie as we all pulled together,” Cameron says. “As time has gone by, though, we’re sort of losing that again. We need to remind ourselves that we’re all Americans; we’re all in the same boat.”

Independent owner-operator Mike Crawford, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Marine Corps, 10 years post-9/11 expressed his love for the United States and pride in military service by getting a USMC tattoo on his right shoulder, something his boot-camp comrades had done at the time but that he’d neglected to.

Crawford believes driver camaraderie remains better than it was before the attacks, but more importantly, drivers are more committed to preventing criminal activity on the road. “There’s an awareness now of guys just out there watching,” he says, referencing the Washington, D.C., sniper, who murdered 10 people over a three-week span a year after 9/11. Ron Lantz, one of the truck drivers who aided police in apprehending John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo at a Maryland rest area, was “paying attention,” says Crawford, just as his driver compatriots continue to do today. “Guys are listening — when the media puts out a call for somebody, they’ve got our attention — not just for terrorist activity, but for any criminal activity.”

Walt Fountain, director of enterprise security at Schneider National, says training and communications have improved following 9/11. “We work diligently to make sure we have a good flow of information to our drivers and receive good information from them,” he says. “Drivers have stayed vigilant and are not afraid to call 9-1-1, look for anomalies and regularly inspect their truck and trailer. The same tools that can prevent cargo theft are also used to prevent terrorism.”

Official recognition of drivers’ post-9/11 on-highway awareness led to programs offering further training in crime prevention, such as the First Observer initiative ( with a single hotline number for on-highway watchers to report suspicious activity. Bill Arrington, general manager for the motor carrier division of the Transportation Security Administration, estimates truckers make 50 percent of the calls under the program, which replaced the Highway Watch program that was launched after 9/11. He says awareness is increasing among all transportation workers, including truckers and bus drivers.

Philmon contends that the 9/11 attacks, perpetrated by individuals living freely and in large part legally within the United States, eroded camaraderie as drivers became suspicious of one another. “You used to run around in groups, but everybody stays more to themselves today,” he says. “You don’t know who you’re talking to on the CB radio. You read about guys getting killed due to lack of parking — you have to be very careful who you talk to.”

But Cameron contends that heightened awareness post-9/11 means “people are more cautious,” she says, “but that’s to me where the camaraderie comes in. If I see somebody messing around with someone else’s truck, I’m more likely to say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ You’re more likely to look out for the next guy.”

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says some shippers and receivers “are more aware and following more specific procedures to make certain security is adhered to and limiting access to their facilities. At others, drivers tell us, nothing has changed.”

Freight: Some win, some lose

Cameron and her husband, Brian, spent a year and a half post-9/11 hauling in a new niche, military freight, leased to Covenant Transport. It was a lucky post, in that demand for team haulers with spotless backgrounds to run for the Department of Defense soared after the attacks put the country on a war footing. On 9/11, after the Camerons had talked to their dispatcher and had seen what happened, they received another call from the office: “They needed to know if we could get clearance to haul military hauls from one undisclosed location to another,” she says.

Quest Global drivers Bettina and Brian Cameron took considerable pride in just being a part of an industry so critical to the American way of life post-9/11, shifting to a military-freight-hauling operation they stuck with for the better part of two years.

They were already hauling high-value freight that required background checks, so “we told them we figured we could get background clearance,” Cameron says. “We took our load that morning on to Portland, and when we got there they told us our clearance had gone through. For that next year, you’d go to a base and people would meet you and cloud out your side windows — sometimes they’d leave you in your truck, sometimes they’d take your truck, unload or load it, and bring it back to you.”

The Camerons were busy through the recession that grabbed the national economy after 9/11, well into 2003. It wasn’t the same for everyone, though. McCorkle, while he doesn’t recall struggling for freight following 9/11, saw his bread and butter hauls, into and out of New York City hauling trade show freight, dry up quickly. “Business within New York City is just not there anymore, for me,” he says. “9/11 changed everything out on the East Coast. Business moved out of New York, out of New Jersey; well inland.”

Avoiding cities became more of a priority for McCorkle, he says, after his experience in New York that day. “My nerves were pretty well shot there for a while.” strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.