Veterans attend seminars, test drive virtual trucks at LFCC conference

By Ryan Cornell

MIDDLETOWN — Dozens of military veterans attended the second annual Veteran Conference at Lord Fairfax Community College on Wednesday.

Hosted by the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center, the conference was geared toward helping veterans reenter the workforce.

Businesses looking to hire veterans set up booths, speakers conducted seminars and a truck driving simulator modeled one possible career path.

Five computers and three plasma screens make up the simulator, which costs more than $200,000 and is used by James River Transportation to train its drivers.

Jimmy Flanagan, the simulator operator, works as a safety director at James River Transportation. He said the company assesses its drivers twice a year: once on the road and once in the simulator.

In the five to six minutes that drivers use the simulator, he can simulate any scenario. He can create fog, inclement weather, an overheated engine and other cars. He can blow out a tire and see how drivers react. Do they pump the brakes and jackknife across the road? Or do they gradually let their foot off the gas pedal?

Flanagan said that one of his drivers called him the next day after testing in the simulator. The driver had been driving a truck and ended up blowing out one of his tires. He was able to react accordingly because he remembered what to do after using the simulator.

Flanagan makes sure drivers are wearing their seatbelts, using their turn signals, looking at their mirrors and checking the dashboard gauges. The simulator can load different vehicles, including a police car, a tractor trailer and a transit bus.

And of course, a bus isn’t a bus without its passengers. Flanagan said he will try to add distractions to the experience. “I yell at them all the time when they’re driving the bus,” he said. “I’ll shout, ‘Driver, can you turn the AC up?’ I try to simulate that, too.”

Flanagan said James River Transportation probably will be hiring in August and usually takes on a group of new drivers to train in January.

Bill Sirbaugh, director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC, said he was expecting 50 to 75 people to show up at the conference. He said most of the attendees were taking advantage of the educational seminars.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com