WAA Trucking Tributes Presents Women in Trucking
The Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach is impossible without the transportation industry. Veterans’ wreaths move by planes, trains, and livestock trailers, but trucks and their professional drivers transport the lion’s share of America’s respect. Many of these drivers are veterans and say the truckload of fresh, balsam-fir wreaths is the most precious cargo they transport in their careers. Wreaths Across America highlights their steadfast commitment in the “Trucking Tributes” feature online and on Wreaths Across America Radio.
Professional drivers and trucking companies give so much to the nation. In December, arguably the busiest time of the year for the transportation sector, the Wreaths Across America mission brings them together in an effort of unparalleled unity. That unity, combined with a “can-do” work ethic, makes it possible for Americans to honor millions of veterans laid to rest here at home and overseas. With over 2,500 participating locations and Arlington National Cemetery, transportation logistics are immense.
One woman who is no stranger to the transportation logistics of Wreaths Across America is the Vice President of the Women in Trucking Association, Debbie Sparks. “I got involved several years ago when I was the Vice President of TCA (Truckload Carriers Association),” she recalled. “One of our members was Barry Pottle with Pottle’s Transportation. He was bringing a load of wreaths from Maine and called me and asked me to meet him at Arlington. I met the Worcester family and just fell in love with the mission.” As time went on, Debbie successfully recruited dozens of professional drivers and their companies to support the annual effort.
As Wreaths Across America continued to grow, Debbie was hired to expand the trucking logistics alongside Sarah and Rob Worcester. “It was kind of funny because I worked with them for three seasons (years) and as it kept growing, I told Sarah and Rob my expertise was really on the Associations side of the trucking industry, and we really need to get someone who handles logistics every day.” When current Transportation Director, Don Queeney, was hired by Wreaths Across America, Debbie transitioned into the position with Women in Trucking. It would not be the end of her involvement with Wreaths Across America, however.
When the President and CEO of Women in Trucking, Ellen Voie, told Debbie she was starting an association for women in the trucking industry Debbie was skeptical. “At the time, women only made up about three percent of the driving pool,” Debbie explained. “She kept the mission very simple, and the idea was to grow it, remove obstacles, and celebrate women being professional drivers.” Debbie says since Ellen started Women in Trucking fourteen years ago, the percentage of female drivers is now up to about ten percent and growing. “The beauty of Women in Trucking is it covers all women in the transportation sector. We support all of them, not just the professional driver, and it’s a holistic networking approach. It’s a really neat environment because women approach business differently than men. We’re able to bring the emotional side to the business in a professional way. Common issues are long stretches of solitude away from families, medical needs, or personal safety, but these issues are not dealt with the same way by men and women on the road.”
One of Debbie’s goals for Women in Trucking as the association grows is creating a mentorship program for success. “Instead of just throwing them into the “man’s world” after their basic training, which for the most part is provided by men, we want to match them up with female drivers who have been in the industry for a while to help them navigate some of the challenges.”
As mentioned earlier, Debbie is coming back to Wreaths Across America to serve on the Board of Directors. “I could follow people on social media, but I really started to miss my Wreaths family,” Debbie allowed. “The diesel is in your blood, and so are the wreaths! Working there for three years in trucking logistics, serving as a volunteer at Arlington, and helping with customer service, I really feel as though I have the perspective to bring a 360-degree view to the Board and the organization’s operations.”
Debbie has a passion for empowering women in the trucking industry and for the mission to remember, honor, and teach. She shares this example of how grassroots involvement in Wreaths Across America creates a culture of success and inclusion for the industry. “Last year, I reached out to one of our Driver Ambassador Kellylynn McLaughlin, to get her involved. She was hesitant at first because she wasn’t a veteran. So, she created an opportunity to recruit a female veteran, preferably a driver, to travel with her on the wreaths journey. We had multiple entries and it came down to two women and we couldn’t choose so we sent them both.” Debbie further explains, “One woman is a veteran and plow truck driver who worked with a Police department in Massachusetts. She recently got her CDL and was waiting for her son to go off to college before hitting the road in a big rig. The other veteran chosen handled social media for a trucking company but had never been overnight in a truck. She documented their journey. Their experience was life changing. The bond created between these three women on the wreaths trip is everlasting. It’s a story we often hear when it comes to Wreaths Across America.”
Thank you, Debbie, Ellen, Kellylnn, and all the members of Women in Trucking who support the mission hauling America’s respect in the form of veterans’ wreaths. You can hear more from Debbie, and other trucking partners on Trucking Tributes heard every Tuesday at 11:00 AM and again at 4:00 PM Eastern, exclusively on Wreaths Across America Radio.
Catch Debbie Sparks and Michael Hale on "Remember, Honor, Teach" on The Dave Nemo Show, SiriusXM 146, Friday, June 25.