June 06, 2012 - It was a long road for Shawn Bartz of Clarkston to land a job with a reasonable commute.
Bartz has returned to his home in Clarkston. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
He was laid off from his job with DaimlerChrysler in 2009. After looking for work, including in other fields, he received a contract offer from Oshkosh Corporation of Wisconsin as a technical trainer for an urgent-need project on military trucks in Kuwait.
"Kuwait was hot, but after four months of unemployment, it was a needed thing," he said. "I didn't see the auto industry coming back, so it was, yeah, sure, absolutely. With the situation I was in, I would be a fool not to."
He helped retrofit armored trucks with new suspension systems as quickly as possible.
"Long hours, 13-15 hour days, maybe two-and-a-half days off the whole time," he said. "My biggest timecard was 103 hours in one week."
It was worth it, said Bartz.
"I'm a Navy veteran – I have a soft spot for Marines and soldiers," he said. "Being able to train soldiers and Marines to effectively use their equipment, to help bring them home alive, is a wonderful thing."
His six-week assignment was to help adapt first-generation Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, MRAP, trucks for service in Afghanistan.
"Most were built with solid axles and leaf springs, fine for a country with infrastructure like Iraq, but not Afghanistan. They had mobility issues, snapping springs, breaking axles, and injuring crew," he said.
Bartz grew up in Alpena, and graduated from Alpena High School in 1992. He attended Universal Technical Institute in Chicago, learning about trucks and big vehicles.
Shawn Bartz, at right, works in Kuwait to upgrade a military MRAP truck for the rigors of Afghanistan. Photo provided (click for larger version)
He moved to Clarkston with his wife, Shelly, in 2004 after more than three years in Florida.
"All of our family was still in Michigan," said Bartz, 38. "We wanted to move closer to home. Clarkston is beautiful, a wonderful area, so we decided to settle here. We love it here."
Success in two Kuwait assignments, in 2009 and 2010, meant a full-time job offer with Oshkosh – in Wisconsin. They couldn't sell their house in Clarkston, however, so he commuted to the Badger State weekly.
Last July, he has an opportunity to work as a technical training specialist with Oshkosh when the company expanded its Detroit-area operation.
"I'm teaching classes here now," he said. "It's nice to be able to go home every night."
He's working on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle project, upgrading military vehicles to make them tougher and more mobile, and training military mechanics around the world.
"I've been living and breathing this truck for two years now," he said. "It's been a challenging two years, but I'm happy doing what I'm doing. Eventually, I'd like to not have to travel quite so much. I have an amazing wife who's incredibly understanding, an incredibly strong woman."
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.