Soldier’s Prized Truck Burned by Thief; Off-Road Community Responds
Late last year, U.S. Army Cpl. James Wesley Trent was on leave at home in Florida after a year-long tour in the Middle East when he found his newly customized truck stolen, stripped and burned. A few days prior he had proudly been rolling in the gold Ford F-250 Super Duty—now it was reduced to a charred wreck.
Insurance replaced Trent’s truck with a used stock model, but it was a far cry from the custom-built original. After he returned to his base in Fort Bliss, Texas, Trent’s parents received a phone call from an off-road industry figure offering to help.
“Last year while watching the news I saw the unfortunate tragedy that happened to Cpl. Trent,” said Phil Gottes, CEO of TuffTruckParts.com in Boca Raton, Florida. “When I heard this, I knew we could help build this soldier a new custom truck.”
Trent would return to his Florida home to celebrate his birthday when he got quite the surprise. Gottes and his wife Lisa drove four hours across Florida to attend the birthday celebration. Trent, surrounded by friends and family, was promised by Gottes that his new truck would be entirely customized free of charge.
“We told him that we were building him a new custom truck and there were a lot of tears,” Gottes said. “We were so happy to help this soldier and turn a negative event into a positive one.”
Work started immediately. Gottes rallied his industry contacts by phone and email, seeking support for the build.
“The response was incredible,” according to Gottes.
American Force Wheels promised new 22-inch rims. Fabtech, AXIS Driveline and Yukon Gear donated a suspension lift kit and drivetrain components. Fab Fours, Ranch Hand, Bushwacker, Rolling Big Power (RBP) and Truck Hero supplied bumpers, side steps, fender flares, a rack, grille and bed cover. Spec-D provided custom headlights.
There was just one problem still standing in the way: Gottes remained in Florida, while Trent and his replacement truck were in El Paso, Texas. This is when 4 Wheel Parts entered the story. With a 4WP store offering a full slate of vehicle bays, El Paso store manager Rick Gonzalez was willing to help.
“Once we heard about this young man’s story we were on it,” Gonzalez said. “Phil asked me and [4WP regional manager] Jeremy Komorn if we could sponsor the labor and we were on board right away. The entire team was involved, and everyone was excited to pitch in.”
More than $30,000 worth of donated truck parts began arriving at the El Paso 4WP store. The lift kit, bumpers and wheels came first. Additional accessories poured in as vendors responded to Gottes’ call.
When the pickup was dropped off for installation, 4WP technicians Juan Moreno, Levin Reyes, Roberto Cardona, Quetz “Q” Rojas went to work completing the build, rotating shifts and working after hours every day for two weeks. El Paso companies Rigo’s Graphics, Truck Wrap and Rick’s Headlight Restorations were enlisted to apply a custom wrap and finishing touches.
On March 2, Gottes flew into El Paso to join Gonzalez and the 4WP crew to present Trent with his finished custom truck. As the flag-wrapped truck rolled up to the staging area, news crews, and 4WP supporters joined Trent and his family and friends in applause and cheers.
“It’s a feeling I can’t fully comprehend yet,” Trent told TV station KTSM. “It means the world to me. It means that we’re not doing it for nothing.”
“It’s an honor that we’re able to do this,” said Ralph Villa, 4WP sales associate. “Instead of Wesley telling us ‘thank you,’ we’re reaching out to him in thanks for his service.”
Gottes, who initiated and organized the build, said there’s more to come for Trent’s truck.
“We talk almost every week. We’re actually doing a couple more things for his truck that we couldn’t do at that time. We’re putting on a truck bed cover and some other things that needed to be done,” he said. “We’re actually going be visiting with him and his family during Christmas week, so we’re excited to hang out and continue working on it.”