Two Captains of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) America's Road Team rolled up right on time to the Operation Interdependence office in Houston TX March 7, delivering pallets of supplies that eventually would make their way to troops serving in the Mideast and other out-of-the-way assignments.

Frank Silio of Covenant Transport Inc and Steve Eckhoff of Hogan Transports Inc, members of ATA's elite Road Team, drove from Myrtle Beach SC where they loaded unused supplies left over from the Southeast Petro-Food Marketing Exposition to Houston.

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Two Captains of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) America's Road Team rolled up right on time to the Operation Interdependence office in Houston TX March 7, delivering pallets of supplies that eventually would make their way to troops serving in the Mideast and other out-of-the-way assignments.

Frank Silio of Covenant Transport Inc and Steve Eckhoff of Hogan Transports Inc, members of ATA's elite Road Team, drove from Myrtle Beach SC where they loaded unused supplies left over from the Southeast Petro-Food Marketing Exposition to Houston.

Sharon Vinson, trade show director for the North Carolina Petroleum and Convenience Marketers, one of the sponsors of the exhibition, heard about Operation Interdependence and put out the word to attendees. With the association, Operation Interdependence, and the ATA putting its heads together, the shipment was soon on its way.

In Houston, a group of volunteers was waiting with arms outstretched to unload the ATA van provided by GE Trailer Fleet Services and hauled with a tractor provided by Mack Truck Inc, both sponsors of the Share the Road program.

"People are incredibly generous," says Jerry Harmon, Houston volunteer area manager for the charity. "Our biggest problem is transportation, so this delivery today is especially helpful."

Although they had been on the road for over 1,000 miles, Silio and Eckhoff were enthusiastic about their project to help the troops. Eckhoff is a former Marine, Silio points out. They had stopped as they entered the city to freshen up and change into their ATA Share the Road shirts embroidered with the program logos and sponsors.

As members of the ATA Road team, the pair participate in the Share the Road program that helps to educate drivers and the public about sharing highways with large trucks. The Road Team consists of a group of 18 professional drivers with millions of accident-free miles. The program also is sponsored by Michelin North America Inc. (The one tank truck driver in the program is Ronald Hawkins Jr, a driver for K-Limited Carrier Ltd, Toledo OH.)

In Houston, Operation Interdependence is part of a national organization that provides a means for community members to support troops serving on the frontlines, military families, and veterans. Volunteers write letters, pack boxes, donate supplies and postage, pick up and deliver supplies, conduct fundraisers, and join in parades.

In addition to the regular Houston volunteers unloading the van, sorting items, and packing boxes were teenage girls and their mothers from the Yellow Rose chapter of the National Charity League, a mother-daughter volunteer program.

"We pack anything that is donated to us that can be approved by the Department of Defense (DOD)," says Harmon. "All items for the troops that are ingested, such as toothpaste, have to be in sealed containers. And we do not accept used items. However, things we do not send overseas to the troops often can be donated to veterans hospitals and a military base here in Texas."

Because of the relationship the organization has with the DOD, it is able to get the donations to the troops quickly. "The supplies go right to the front," Harmon says. "Nothing is wasted."

With 12 regular volunteers and others that make contributions of time, the organization carefully examines items for safety and security and then packs sealed plastic bags that fit into a fatigue pocket. Aerosol cans cannot be included because they are prohibited from air transportation. The bags are filled with items such as toiletries, playing cards, snacks, batteries, and throw-away cameras. Each packet contains a personal letter from a volunteer.

"We've been told that there are members of the military who never receive anything from home," says Harmon. "Our work is a means for one person to say thank you to a military hero. As I said, our biggest problem is transportation. Our volunteers provide the items and get them packed, but then we have to get them to the post office for shipment or to other distribution points."

Cost for shipping the boxes, which are standardized for easy stacking, is currently about $30 per box. "But that means the cost is only 60 cents per soldier," Harmon notes.

Well worth the cost and effort, she adds. The organization often receives thank yous from the military recipients. "We get very sincere letters," she says.

Two of the most popular items that accompany the supplies in each packet are the letters from individuals and children's drawings provided from local elementary schools.

Meanwhile, after the van was unloaded in Houston, the Road Team was headed in separate directions. Eckhoff was scheduled to fly back home to Missouri where he would soon be on the road again for Hogan Transport. Silio was assigned to take the ATA tractor/trailer unit to Florida for another presentation and eventually to his home also in Florida. He, too, would soon be back in the cab for Covenant.

ATA points out that Eckhoff has driven over 2.1 million accident-free miles in his 28-year career as a professional truck driver and has posted a profile of him online at truckline.com.

Silio has been a professional truck driver for five years and has accumulated 1.1 million accident-free miles. See his profile online at truckline.com.

Interested in volunteering transportation and/or other sources to Operation Interdependence? For more information about the Houston chapter, contact Harmon at jharmon@oidelivers.org. For more information about Operation Interdependence, see the national organization online at oidelivers.org.