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New Rules Help Get Commercial Driver's License

Service members who are licensed to drive a range of military vehicles now have an advantage gaining a commercial driver's license, a senior defense official said.

Frank C. DiGiovanni, who directs the Defense Department's office of training readiness and strategy, recently told The Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service the licensing development is "the second piece of something that was passed last year."

In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted the commercial learner's permit rule. It allows states to substitute two years of safe driving experience in qualifying military vehicles for the skills-test portion of the commercial driver's license test.

DiGiovanni said the Military Commercial Driver's License Act of 2012, which took effect in October, adds another boost for service members with military licenses who seek civilian credentials. The new legislation permits states to issue commercial driver's licenses to members of the Armed Forces who are stationed in a state, but not a resident of that state.

Because they move frequently, service members often maintain one state of residency. Service members who leave the military while living in a state other than their state of residency would previously have had to wait 30 days to a year to earn residency, DiGiovanni said.

He offered an example of the new act's provisions: suppose a service member is stationed in Texas but plans to leave the military and move to South Carolina. That person -- if he or she has the required driving experience -- can take the written commercial driver's license test in Texas while still on active duty, receive a license, and then transfer the license to South Carolina later on, DiGiovanni said. All 50 states have reciprocity agreements for commercial driving licenses, he noted.

The law applies to all active duty, reserve, National Guard, and Coast Guard members. About 10,000 truck drivers, mostly soldiers and Marines, separate from the military each year, according to defense officials. Tens of thousands of other motor vehicle operators, who may drive a vehicle as an additional duty, may also be affected.

DiGiovanni noted commercial license requirements vary by state, so service members should learn the specific rules for their state of residence.

He added each state is funded through the Department of Labor for a veterans outreach coordinator.

"You need to go to the website for a state that you're interested in, and search for the veterans outreach coordinator home page," he said. "... That should help you with what's available state-by-state."

DOD offers overall transition assistance through its revamped Transition Assistance Program, he said, which is the first place that service members very close to separating should check to determine what help they can access and what mandatory requirements they face in transition.

DiGiovanni noted DOD is working through its credentialing and licensing task force to incorporate post-military career planning throughout a service member's career cycle:

-- After initial technical training, when "there are many licenses and credentials that could be gained, once an individual graduates," he said.

-- After a few years' military experience. "Many [commercial] licenses and credentials also require experience, so that would be another time that we would look to have policy, or provide some guidance on counseling of our service members as to what their opportunities are," the director added.

-- Finally, when a service member first considers leaving the military, "... maybe a year to two years out, we would begin to talk to them about how they could leverage the skill sets they've learned while serving their country into something that could be useful to them as a career outside of the military, in the private sector," he said.

His office, he said, is working to develop and set policy to "help energize the services to provide that kind of counseling and guidance and awareness across a service member's career."

DOD's credentialing and licensing task force was created at the request of the White House, DiGiovanni said, but while his office puts policy in place, "in reality, we're really providing guidance. In the end, it's each of the services, and manpower, personnel [and] reserve affairs secretariats that really have the actions to implement what we're doing as a department ... to make sure our veterans are prepared to serve in the private sector."

The department's entire veteran employment effort, he said, is intended to honor veterans' service to the country, and to help them transition successfully to post-military life.

"I think [through] the 10 years of conflict, and the fact that we're downsizing the force, the fact that almost 300,000 people a year leave the Department of Defense -- that we've realized that this really is important to us, to look at individuals throughout their entire service," he said.

DOD also gains something by helping service members to transition successfully, DiGiovanni noted.

"Getting certain licenses and credentials ... [broadens] one's perspective, and therefore enhances the professionalism of the force," he said.

The second advantage the department gains, he said, is in recruiting capability.

As the department's licensing and credentialing efforts move ahead, recruiters can point out to prospective military drivers that they'll not only receive military skill training but also transferable, private-sector job qualifications, DiGiovanni said.

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