WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — What started as a love for all things on four wheels turned into a career dedicated to making them go for one Kansas veteran.
As a young man, Terry Simmons was on his way to the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship. But, when he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, he joined the military instead to provide for his young family.
His decision sparked a lifelong passion for tanks and trucks. He says it continues as manager of the Jiffy Lube at Central and Ridge Road in Wichita.
“I’m more of a hands-on guy,” Simmons says.
Keeping cars in working order is something he’s been doing since his time in the National Guard.
“A lot of what you see going on right here, we did back there in the military, too,” Simmons said. “We pulled trucks in. We did maintenance on them, all that kind of stuff, same stuff we do here. Funny how that works out, huh? Yes. Isn’t that something?”
He joined the 161st Field Artillery Battalion in 1988, attending basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
“I had real long hair. I’m coming down the steps of the bus. Before I hit the ground, the drill sergeants were right there, and they said, ‘Oh, we got Jesus!'” he laughs.
It was there that Simmons learned to drive a wide range of large trucks.
“The drivers would also work with the mechanics in keeping their trucks fixed,” he said.
Simmons said he also learned to work on specialized vehicles.
“I’ll never forget this one. It was an amphibious vehicle. It could go in the water or on land, and it had a window down on the floorboard … and the wheels were as tall as me,” he said. “I remember getting in there and thinking, ‘What’s this window down here for?’ Well, it’s because you can climb things so steep that you can’t look out the window anymore. You gotta look out this window down here. Yeah, it’ll go over tree logs, all kinds of stuff. It was the funnest vehicle ever to drive.”
Simmons graduated at the top of his class.
“I graduated honor grad in my basic, in AIT (Advanced Individual Training), out of 750 guys, they gave that to one person. Colin Powell is the one that gave that to me and shook my hand.”
It is an accomplishment that Simmons is especially proud of given a tragedy less than a year into his military career – his father passed away.
“Hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” Simmons said.
He would go on to serve for four years. He said the main mission at the 161st was supply artillery. His expertise even landed him a job guarding nuclear weapons.
“So you would have one helicopter that actually transported the, the nukes, and then we’d have four other helicopters that would land first, and we’d set up a perimeter for that helicopter to come down to drop the nuke off, and then we’d have one helicopter that stayed in the air to protect it.”
While Simmons no longer works with military vehicles, his dedication is stronger than ever.
“If I have veterans come here for oil changes, I always give them discounts, always, thank them for their service, give them discounts. Always.”
Simmons says he appreciates what his company does for veteran employees, and his passion goes beyond the workplace.
He is dedicated to his family, too, such as helping his older granddaughter find her first car.