Driving Through History: The Multifaceted Life of JC Vega
When you meet George "JC" Vega, one of the first things you'll notice is his great smile, and he smiles a lot. Despite a life with plenty of hardship, JC stays positive and joyful. And he has certainly packed a lot into his nearly 70 years, including multiple tours in Vietnam, farming, working as an aerospace engineer, and a nearly 40-year trucking career, including over 15 years with K&J.
It isn't every day you meet a Puerto Rican aerospace engineer turned trucker, so we sat down with JC to ask about some of his unique life experiences and how they have shaped the man he is today.
JC's Early LIfe
JC was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York, on an air force base to two military parents in a military family. "My parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my great-great-grandparents, they were all in the military," JC said.
Photo of JC's parents at their wedding
Most of his childhood was spent in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where JC developed a deep connection to his cultural roots. As the oldest of eight children in a tight-knit family, he took on responsibilities from a young age.
JC (top center) pictured with his siblings. "You can always tell it is me because I'm the whitest one with funny-looking ears!"
When JC was a young teen, his family moved from Puerto Rico to New York to pursue a better life. JC was dedicated to helping his family, leaving school behind to support them financially. During this time he sometimes drove trucks with an uncle who was a truck driver in both Puerto Rico and New York.
JC (front center) and his family.
The Vietnam War
In 1972, Vietnam was still raging. And as a military son, at just 17 years old, JC joined the "family business" volunteered for the US Army alongside several friends. He quickly excelled in advanced airborne and Ranger training, becoming a member of the elite special forces 75th Ranger Regiment. His unit was known for being a "lethal, agile, and flexible force" that could be deployed for conducting raids within enemy territory.
From 1972 to 1975, JC completed two harrowing tours of duty in Vietnam as part of dangerous reconnaissance and combat missions. He narrowly survived two horrific injuries, including nearly losing his leg, and, while he doesn't like to talk about it, he was highly decorated for his bravery under fire.
"Those were hard experiences," JC said. "I saw things that stay with me. But I can't think about that; I have to focus on now."
Returning to Civilian Life
After an extensive year-long recovery process in Korea and Germany, JC finished his education, obtaining his GED and a bachelor's degree in military science. He moved to Oklahoma and worked manual jobs in the oil fields and trucking industry as he adjusted to civilian life back in the US.
In 1970s Oklahoma, when JC first started driving, the trucking industry looked very different. "Back then we had a 'co-pilot' in our pockets," JC reminisced, referring to the paper logs that allowed drivers to work longer hours by keeping more than one log book. "Drivers really looked out for each other on the road too," JC said. "If we broke down on the side of the road, you'd have 15 trucks trying to help you get going."
JC shared some hair-raising tales from his days driving in the pre-electronic logging days. "I used to run back and forth nonstop," he said of runs from coast to coast. On one trip, JC logged over 100 hours behind the wheel! Safety regulations have, thankfully, changed a lot since then.
From Aerospace to the Road
In the mid-1980s, JC was recruited into a new career in aerospace control engineering in Amsterdam. "They saw that I was pretty smart," JC said. "They sent me through their school and then I ended up training others."
He went to work for Scandinavian Airlines out of their Copenhagen base, and was tasked with laying out a detailed plan of where freight could go on the plane so that the weight was balanced and there was enough fuel. While he loved many aspects of the job, it was grueling at times. "It is a very high-stress career," JC said. "People don't tend to last long in that industry."
That wasn't the case for JC, who spent nearly 15 years working for Scandinavian Airlines before retiring and returning to Guymon, Oklahoma in the late 1990s. For a man who had been working his whole life, retirement drove JC crazy.
"I couldn't sit still very long," JC said. "That's when I returned to my roots in trucking and found K&J. They had a location in Guymon right next to a guy I used to work for." When he walked into the K&J office, he was greeted by an old friend from his 1970s livestock hauling days. "I said, 'hey Lil' Man,' 'cause that was Fred's CB name!" Needless to say, JC got the job with K&J and the rest was history.
JC, in the 1990s.
JC's Time at K&J Trucking
While he started as a company driver, JC quickly determined he wanted to be an owner-operator. "I had always been an owner-operator in the past, so I went to Shelley and asked her what I needed to do to be an owner-op here. She told me and I worked on doing those things. She said she'd never seen someone do them so quickly!"
JC's trucking career has taken him all across the country and given him countless stories to tell, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. "I had a road rage problem for a while," JC said. "In fact, K&J let me go for a while so I could get my head on straight."
For JC, his time away from K&J gave him the perspective he needed. "I called Shelley and told her I was hoping to come back and was a changed man," JC said. "Thankfully she took me back because this place is family."
Never was that more true than when JC encountered some serious health issues while on the road.
"I was down in Amarillo I think, and I noticed I was starting to have some issues with blurred vision. So I went to the eye doctor and got a prescription. I kept driving and was up on I-80 when Jennifer [Safety Director at K&J] got some calls about me following too close. She called and asked me what was going on and I said I felt okay. But then when I stopped at a Walmart I collapsed twice. Then I knew something was wrong and I called 911. They came and picked me up from my truck."
JC's memories faded out from there because, while he didn't know it yet, he was experiencing a major diabetic episode and on the ride to the hospital and entered a coma. When he came to, the doctor informed him that he was diabetic and his blood sugar was 10 times what it should be. During his stay, JC learned that his love of energy drinks was his downfall.
"The doctor could actually tell that I'd had energy drinks because of my blood work. All that sugar was so bad for me. He told me, 'JC, you should be dead 3 times over!' My blood sugar was 1500 and it should have been under 140." It took him a week of hospitalization, insulin, and medication to get his blood sugar down to 400-500, which is still very high.
Because of his insulin dependence, JC wasn't eligible to go on the road. Thankfully, he had his K&J family to back him up. "They sent two drivers over to get my truck and trailer. Shelley talked to the bank and took care of my truck payments. They sent me to a health clinic to help me lose weight. They gave me a job in the shop while I was getting healthy. No one does that for anybody. That's why I love K&J so much," JC said.
After the incident, JC went to work on his health. And just like when he worked to become an owner-operator, he did it much faster than anyone could have imagined. He dropped 70-80 lbs and worked his way off insulin in just four months! His doctor was shocked. "He told me it usually takes people a year to get off insulin when they are that bad," JC said. "For 4 months I fought like crazy. I did it all and sweated my ass off! But I had to get off the shot cause I couldn't drive with it."
Being told multiple times you shouldn't have made it will give you a new lease on life. JC has spent the last few years focusing on maintaining his health and spending time with his family while enjoying life on the road. Recently, he was able to take his youngest daughter, Sierra, out on the road for a few weeks.
JC's daughter, Sierra.
As JC reflected on his past, he was primarily thankful for the unexpected journey of his life. "I'm just thankful I still get to do what I love," JC said. "And I'm so glad I found the K&J family."
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