Taming the beast

| December 12, 2008

Niche haulers can use their expertise as leverage in the competition for Department of Defense freight.

The Pentagon’s Personal Property Program, for example, might suit your operation if you’re pulling a moving van or car hauler. Visit www.sddc.army.mil and click on Personal Property/POV.

Just having special equipment can help. After 26 years driving and doing maintenance in the U.S. Army, Jerry Virgil of Holly Springs, Miss., went out on his own with one truck. Scarcely three years later, J&W Virgil Trucking is a three-truck fleet, hauling weapons on removable-gooseneck trailers.

If you’re a team operation, that’s one hurdle cleared on the way to hauling arms, ammunition and explosives (AA&E). Those hauls are restricted to teams to minimize stops and increase security.

Another is obtaining the correct operating authority – with a bulk-hazmat-type liability insurance requirement of $5 million instead of the $1 million required of most general military freight.

To haul AA&E, an owner-operator team must undergo individual background checks through the Defense Security Service, which works with the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command to get clearances for the drivers at each facility that must be entered. The command requires “total in-transit visibility, satellite tracking, the latest technologies that are out there,” says James Gilmore of the SDCC.

Only about 30 carriers nationwide are approved to haul AA&E. One of them, Baggett Transportation, was founded in 1928 as a local hauler of dynamite for coal companies around Birmingham, Ala. Today, Baggett’s single-driver owner-operators start around 95 cents a mile, but its arms-hauling teams start at $1.40, says Claiborne Crommelin, the fleet’s vice president for safety. The company currently contracts with about 70 owner-operator teams for AA&E.

Mercer has 75 approved AA&E teams, says Vice President Jack Lubay. Landstar has upward of 400, Clark Hall says.

Rates can vary wildly depending on the cargo, but Landstar team Joe Griggs and Sandy Hart, nearing retirement after 18 years hauling weapons, have seen colleagues in AA&E exceed $350,000 in gross yearly earnings.

After his three-truck fleet became an approved carrier, owner-operator Joe Whitten landed his first Pentagon haul using the Spot Bid function in the Electronic Transportation Acquisition system. Spot Bid, reserved for time-sensitive and oversized shipments, allows real-time bidding on specific loads.

Whitten landed five shipments going from Chipley, Fla., east to a base nearly four hours south of Jacksonville. He had to deadhead to Chipley from his home in northern Alabama, but “I had made up my mind that if it cost me money, I was going to complete that shipment,” Whitten says.

Since then, his regional dedication and further familiarity with the Global Freight Management system have allowed him to be successful on his own.

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