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Soldier-turned-Monster Jam driver on life after service

March 16, 2016 (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Feld Motor Sports)

 

Working on Apache helicopters for 10 years didn’t directly prepare former Sgt. Tony Ochs for his current private-sector position, which involves crushing cars and speeding around dirt tracks in the cab of a souped-up truck atop 5½-foot-tall tires.

But beyond mechanical expertise, Ochs said he relies on skills picked up during his time in service, which included deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, as he attempts to break through on the Monster Jam circuit. A few months into the gig, he’s about to take part in the Young Guns Shootout this Thursday in Las Vegas, where 16 young drivers will battle for a spot in Monster Jam World Finals XVII, which begins the next night.

When he’s not on tour, the 30-year-old is putting together a business plan for a fabrication company, which he hopes will produce, among other things, high-performance parts for all-terrain vehicles.

Army Times spoke with Ochs, who drives the Soldier Fortune Black Ops truck, as he prepared for his big night in Vegas. The interview covered all the standard career questions: How to get a job fixing bikes for Captain America, dating a stuntwoman, driving pickups when other kids your age are watching "Sesame Street," and so on. 

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Tony Ochs will compete in a young-driver challenge Thursday in Las Vegas to earn a spot in the Monster Jam World Finals the next night.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Feld Motor Sports

Q. What made you decide that you were ready to move on from the Army?

A. It just wasn’t for me anymore. I enjoyed my time in the Army. I wouldn’t change anything about it. I either had to re-enlist indefinitely or get out, and I was right on that teeter-totter, you know? So I just decided to get out. … I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, and I figured, “Let me pursue something a little bit different.” 

Q. You were doing repair work before you became a driver, right? What was that transition process like?

A. I put my résumé into a show that’s owned by Feld Entertainment, which also owns Monster Jam, called Marvel Universe Live, to be their motorcycle repairman. They’ve got about 20 stunt motorcycles. They hired me right out of the Army. I was their motorcycle crew chief for about 18 months, up until this past December. Soldier Fortune Black Ops was a concept last summer. … They hadn’t found the driver yet. Once they discovered me over at Marvel Universe Live — of course I worked my tail off to get discovered — they ended up making the concept a reality and making me the driver, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Growing up in rural northwest Pennsylvania, it’s kind of instinctual — you come out of your mother’s womb knowing how to operate machinery and off-road vehicles and stuff.

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Former soldier Tony Ochs pilots the Soldier Fortune Black Ops monster truck through dirt-track races as well as "freestyle" events that include several obstacles.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Feld Motor Sports

Q. What are your first memories of being on a machine like that?

A. To tell you the truth, I was probably 4 years old when I drove my first tractor, and when I was 5 or 6 years old, I drove my first truck. It was an F-250, standard transmission. My grandpa and my dad, and I don’t know how I remember this, they were throwing hay and they needed somebody to drive the truck to haul the hay while they threw it in the truck. So what my grandpa did, he sat me in the driver’s seat, put it in gear, dumped the clutch and let it go. … Here I was, 5 years old, driving a standard-transmission F-250 through a hay field. 

Q. Aside from the mechanical expertise, what are the big takeaways from your time in service that you’ve been able to use as you’ve built this new career path?

A. The most crucial thing that the military has taught me is the ability to handle stress. The ability to be calm and complete the mission in a very stressful situation, and to be resilient when something happens. When you get in the monster truck, you don’t have time to be scared. You really have to think about what you’re doing. That is the biggest thing I took away from the Army that helps me — the mental preparation. Another thing is getting to drive those big-old military trucks — obviously, you don’t go hammering them over jumps at 50 mph, but that’s something that helps.

A. Have a plan, have an alternative to that plan, and have an alternative to that plan. I started planning my separation probably a year-and-a-half before my [expiration term of service] was coming. I didn’t come anywhere near my first plan. I think I’m in Alternative No. 6 — I’m in something I never fathomed I’d be doing at that point. Marvel Universe Live, my girlfriend worked for them — she was one of the motorcycle stunt riders; she was Black Widow and Madame Hydra, she would switch off — and that was my third or fourth alternative to put my résumé in with them. … If you can’t get a plan together in your head, use the Army’s resources. There are so many resources that the Army offers. Because of their résumé-building class in [the Army Career and Alumni Program], I can write a résumé like nobody’s business. People ask me to help write their résumés.

A. Absolutely. Through all these pit parties and post-show autograph signings, I get several military guys. I can’t even count how many military veterans I see, they come through and thank me for my service, and they briefly tell their story, and I thank them for their service as well. I get a lot of children who come through with their mothers, and their dads are deployed. … It’s an honor for me to come out and put on a show.

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