Unfortunately, Rogers’ team did not go unscathed while delivering essential goods.
In late May, Spartan Direct contract driver Kevin Lewis came down with symptoms of the coronavirus, which he described as “the cold from hell.”
When he learned of his colleague’s health, Rogers met Lewis at a truck stop outside Cheyenne, Wyo., picked up his trailer, delivered his load for him and brought the trailer back.
Lewis returned to his home in Springfield, Mo., where he and his wife Melissa, who herself was already feeling sick, quarantined in their apartment for more than two weeks.
Lewis doesn’t know where he caught the virus; his best guess is he was infected while passing through a travel center. While he and Melissa were recuperating, he said Rogers would call to check on them. They’ve both since recovered.
“I honestly feel that his No. 1 concern is us as his contractors,” Lewis said, speaking to Transport Topics from Hutchinson, Kan., where he was picking up a load of sodium product bound for a feed and seed facility. “He’s just an upright dude. You can’t find a better person.”
Rogers knows what it is to face hardships and spend long stretches of time away from home. He served in the U.S. Army for 11 years, stationed in Afghanistan with a platoon he described as a “jack-of-all-trades” crew that conducted missions for security, route clearance and resupply.
Prior to joining the Army at age 27, the enlistment age of “an old man,” Rogers drove trucks, a skill which he was able to utilize during his military service behind the wheel of Humvees and armored vehicles.
During the platoon’s response to an attack on its forward operating base, Rogers sustained a severe back injury as he helped a fellow soldier mount a machine gun on a vehicle. A rocket-—propelled grenade struck the opposite side of the vehicle, blowing Rogers away and causing him to land hard on the base of his neck.
When he woke up in the aid station, he didn’t know he had broken his back, and neither did his physicians. He only knew he didn’t want to leave his team. It took a couple of years and a return to the United States for a doctor to identify his broken back, which, at that point, hadn’t healed properly. Rogers knew something was physically wrong; he could no longer run, he relied on a cane and he experienced bodily shakes. The Army ultimately discharged him for medical reasons.
Rogers’ return to civilian life was rocky. Hooked on strong pain medication, he’d exhaust a 90-day prescription in a month. He’d carry around a Food Lion bag full of prescriptions, ranging from Percocet and Vicodin to OxyContin and a fentanyl patch. He found rock bottom when Jennifer discovered him in the bathroom with a pistol one day. He credits her with talking him off the ledge, at which point he decided to make a positive change and re-enter the trucking industry.
As a small business owner, Rogers deals with challenges related to both business ownership and trucking. (Courtesy of Shannon Currier)
“I was a statistic,” Rogers said. “I was that veteran you always hear about having a hard time transitioning. When I did realize that I needed to make a change in my life, it was the realization that I did want to get back into driving. The part that got me back into driving was I needed to fill a void. I needed to serve something bigger than me. And that ‘bigger than me’ is the country [and] the people.”
Rogers moves pretty well these days, although he still deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. He’s mastered strengthening exercises to help with pain management and inflammation. He’s been sober for about three and a half years.
The idea to create his own trucking company came in 2017, at which point Rogers was driving for Prime Inc. He was awarded a truck and authority as an owner-operator in the spring of 2018 through the Keys to Progress program, a partnership between Progressive Insurance and the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund, a charity that helps injured truckers and their families.
Shannon Currier, director of philanthropy and development for the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund, first met Rogers on paper in November 2017, when she was reviewing applications for the Keys to Progress program. It was Currier who nominated Rogers for recognition as a Trucking Frontline Hero. Currier and Rogers developed a rapport through phone interviews over a series of months before meeting in person in March 2018 at the Mid-America Trucking Show.
“He’s one of those people that you meet and you’re like, ‘Have I known you my whole life?’ ” Currier said. “He just wanted to do his job and he was positive about it. You really have to have a good business sense and be prepared for emergency situations, and goodness, who could’ve prepared for something like this? Nobody. But [I think] being as prepared as possible is what has helped him stay successful through all of this.”
Rogers hauls all sorts of goods, ranging from hay bound for a therapeutic riding farm in Wilmington, N.C., to masks and gowns destined for Indianapolis. When he speaks to TT, he’s in Madison, Ala., delivering a load of groceries.
Rogers is willing to drive anywhere for a load, but he particularly enjoys the Midwest and Northeast, noting that a lot of his family is from upstate New York. His dream load would take him from Maine to Seattle, allowing him to cruise across North Dakota, Montana and northern Idaho on his way.
Sergeant waits patiently for Rogers. (Courtesy of Shannon Currier)
“Every time I drive down the road, I look out the window and, being a combat veteran and seeing death, destruction and third world countries, I get to further appreciate why I did it. I further appreciate why I served,” Rogers said. “I know people get aggravated with trucks. But, it’s that satisfaction that if that’s the worst thing that you’re worried about, and you have no idea what’s going on in the rest of the world, then somewhere along the line either myself or a fellow veteran has done something right.”
Rogers goes long stretches without seeing his family, but he’s never alone. His service dog, a stout American Staffordshire terrier named Sergeant, is his constant companion. Sergeant, who turns three this Thanksgiving, goes with Rogers everywhere. If Rogers steps out of the cab, Sergeant watches him using the truck’s mirrors. He senses and responds to Rogers’ needs, laying on his chest if he has a nightmare or supporting him if his ankles give out.