Every day 1000’s of employees faithfully go about their duties through out school bus transportation in North Carolina. Delivering children safely to & from school is job number one for these dedicated folk. Their service goes largely unnoticed by the millions of citizens of the Tar Heel state. In most cases, “flying under the radar” is the way everyone in school transportation likes it.
There is a special group within the thousands of transportation employees who share a common bond that only the proud few can proclaim. They made a conscious decision to serve in the US Military. Since 1991, when the Gulf wars began, many school transportation employees were called to serve their country. They had to drop their regular civilian routines, leave their families and fellow employees behind to be shipped off to the hostile desert environments of Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
The war veterans also “fly under the radar” of the public eye after returning to the states.
An unknown author writes “As we struggle with the realities of war at home, we must not forget the sacrifice, courage, and dedication of soldiers with “boots on ground.” Each of them is an “unsung hero,” and to write about each and every one as their sacrifices merit and deserve, are beyond the abilities of even the most gifted poet”.
The following are some brief notes about some of North Carolina’s School Transportation employees who have served in one or more of the Middle East war zones. Also included is a Tribute to Sgt. Kenneth Hess, who was killed in Iraq while serving his country. Kenneth was the son of Buncombe Co. Transportation Assistant Director Terry Hess.
Lee Hughes has been employed in Lincoln County as a road mechanic for the past 11 years. Recently he served his country in the Army National Guard for 14 months in Iraq as a Motor Sergeant with the 105th Combat Engineers. He has spent a total of 13 years with the guard and is currently a Staff Sergeant.
“Even after all the prior training the realness of war and its many faces are very evident the first time you roll outside the wire. Giving a new found respect and bond to all the fellow soldiers you serve with and a deep appreciation for the safety of home and family.”- Lee Hughes
Eric Locklear has served as the Transportation Director of the Person County school bus garage for the past seven years. From February 2004 until December 2004 he served as a Major in the Army National Guard in the 30th Enhanced Heavy Separate Brigade as a Brigade Chemical Officer and also held duties as a Chief of Operations, Brigade Tactical Operations Center. He was based at the Kurdish Military Training Base (KMTB) in the Diyala Province, 70 miles from the Iranian Border.
Major Locklear stands near the Iranian border during an inspection of the border crossing
“The 30th Brigade provided stability and support to the Diyala cites and towns. We helped to rebuild schools, parks, and roads. We trained the police, border patrol, and Iraqi National Guard Troops. We help to pave the way for the first free election of the interim government.” -Eric Locklear, 23 years of military service.
William T. Moss has been employed by Craven Co. Transportation as a mechanic for the past 15 years.
From January 2004 until March 2005 the 1452nd Transportation Unit of the Army National Guard (where he serves) was called to go to Iraq. His unit is a heavy equipment transportation detail and he served the role of Squad leader of heavy equipment mechanics and recovery specialists. His current rank is Sergeant. He has served 21 years in the guard.
“It is a time of my life that I will never forget. I made many new friends that will be in my heart forever. We should be grateful for the life we have, and the beliefs we are taught as we are growing up.”-William T. Moss
Gilberto Grafals is an M3 lead mechanic at the Cumberland Co. Bus Garage where he has been employed for the past three years. He has served in the Army National Guard for four years. His unit was deployed three times in four years. His first deployment was at “Ground Zero” in NYC where he served with a military security force. He was deployed to Kuwait twice with each tour served consecutively for a total of two years.
“My 12 man unit served as a security force on ships that sent military equipment to the Middle East in preparation for the war. Each trip took about 2 weeks. What struck me the most was the shock at the utter poverty I witnessed while sailing past countries like Egypt and Oman. Here we are living in the 21st century and there are still people living in houses that are literally made of straw and mud, living without the simplest of things like toilets and running water and using donkeys and mules as transportation. Meanwhile, a few miles down, I'd see these extravagantly expensive mansions with perfectly manicured lawns and lines of swaying palm trees. Two totally different worlds living side by side.” – Gilberto Grafals (Specialist E4, NY ARMY NG 145th Maintenance Co. AND Puerto Rico 92nd Support Infantry)
Specialist Grafals stands ready onboard the USNS Red Cloud somewhere in the Persian Gulf.
Bobby Carter - Wilson Co. Schools –Mech. M-2 for 12 years, Air Force Reserves, Served a total of 20 years with unit 916 CES. Served in Saudi Arabia with Operation Southern Watch and in United Arab Emirates with Operation Enduring Freedom & Operation Iraqi Freedom. Rank-TSGT. Heavy equipment operator.
Here Bobby is seen receiving a box from home and reading a letter from a loved one.
Bobby shows off his spacious living quarters.
Richard Stavrakas - Mecklenburg-Independence Area Bus Driver, US ARMY Tour of Duty Jan. 1981-June 2006, MOS Chemical Corps. Rank-SFC,
Eddie Palmer, Sr. - Mecklenburg-Vance Area Transportation Specialist , US ARMY, Combat Unit-108th Tng Bde. , Deployed-June 06-June 07, MOS-Signal Corps, Rank-LTC.
Chuck Levitt - Mecklenburg-Providence Area Transportation Specialist, MARINES, Combat Unit-3rd Marines Air Wing, Deployed June 1984-Oct. 2005, MOS-Infantry, Rank-MAJ.
Kevin Devore - Mecklenburg-North Area Transportation Specialist , US ARMY, Combat Unit-1st Infantry Div. 2000-2005, MOS-Transportation Corp., Rank-SGT
William Harrelson - Mecklenburg-Providence Area Bus Driver, US ARMY, Served Mar. 1991-Nov. 1993, MOS-Supply Corps. Rank-CW4.
Wesley Alsbrooks - Mecklenburg-Providence Area Bus Driver. US ARMY, Dates of Service Oct. 1990-March. 1991, MOS-Field Artillery Corps. Rank-SP4.
Michael M. Watson - Gaston Co. School Bus Driver for 19 years. US ARMY with 413th Chemical Company for a total of 20 years. Deployed in Kuwait & Baghdad for 1 ½ years as a Light vehicle mechanic.
Fred Klumpp - Henderson Co. Schools Transportation Director. He has worked at the bus garage for 10 years starting out as a route mechanic. He served for 22 years in the Army and retired with the rank of Sergeant First Class. For 22 months he was deployed to Iraq & Afghanistan with the 211th Military Police unit where he served as a platoon sergeant.
Ronald Baldwin - Buncombe Co. Transportation Shop Foremen–13 yrs. Total service at bus garage–29 years. Served in the US Navy SEABEES as a 2nd class petty officer during Desert Storm from Dec. 1990–May 1991. Ronald served as a Construction Mechanic and helped build roads, buildings, landing strips and bridges as requested by other military branches. He was enlisted a total of 8 yrs in the Naval Reserves.
Remembering a True American Hero