By Curtis Michaels
Roswell Daily Record
Quoting author John E. Lewis, Magil Duran asks “If not us, then who?” when asked why he and the veterans he works with are so dedicated to transporting veterans all over the state of New Mexico.
The Southeastern New Mexico Veteran’s Transport Network has been helping Southeastern New Mexico’s veterans get to their appointments and meetings since February 2013.
Duran is the latest in a line of presidents, starting with Frank Ramirez, then Frank Carrillo, then Harry McGraw. Duran takes his work to heart and is deeply honored to be of service to his fellow veterans.
“It all began because two veterans needed a ride to the VA Hospital in Albuquerque, and another vet took them. These men were primarily Vietnam vets. The word spread. Then a van was donated,” Duran says.
That was the birth of the organization, and from then on a veteran was driving veterans. In Duran’s hands, the organization has grown.
As veterans’ needs are getting met more and more, Duran found he needed office help.
Enter Alice Wood, who started with the network in 2013 and has become indispensable. She is office manager, a secretary and more importantly, has become a confidante and a caring and trusted source of information and service to veterans and their families.
“Losing Alice would be a disruption of veterans’ services,” says Duran.
An illustration of their dedication is the story of one driver who left Roswell early in the morning, drove to Hobbs to pick up a veteran, then to Carlsbad to pick up another veteran, and then back through Roswell to get another veteran before driving to the VA hospital in Albuquerque. He waited for them to finish their appointments and then, at the end of the day he reversed the trip. Driving time alone was over 14 hours that day.
The network operates on donations and grants.
It has grown to now have two vans in Hobbs, one van in Carlsbad, one van in Artesia, and five vans in Roswell. They are still in need of more vans as many veterans are still missing important appointments to the V.A. Hospital as well as to Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs).
The network also covers West Texas, including El Paso, Lubbock, Odessa, Midland, Big Springs and Amarillo.
The office is at 2114 W. Second St., across from the Krumland Auto Group. The Krumlands have donated the use of the building and land currently in use by the network.
“I can’t say enough about the veteran friendly attitudes in Southeastern New Mexico.” Says Duran.
Seven state legislators worked together with the state of New Mexico to give money to Chaves County to purchase the current vans for the networks use.
Just as no man is an island, no organization can stand completely alone.
Duran appreciates all the help they get from local business, such as the Krumland Auto Group, and from civic organizations like the Elks Lodge and Sertoma among others.
One of the most hands-on groups to make a difference is Goodwill (Lurdes Minaya is the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Case Manager.)
This past week, Minaya and Duran combined efforts to help a blind, homeless veteran, who had been living in her car for the past four months in Carlsbad, to get temporary housing and are now working to find her a long-term home.
Ninety-five percent of drivers are retired.
“In 2014 we traveled over 187,000 miles and transported 1413 veterans. Forty percent of those veterans would not have made it to their medical appointments without our assistance,” Duran says.
Since its inception, the network has covered 900,000 miles without an accident.
The veterans do not pay anything for this service, and they are picked up from and delivered to their front door.
Duran’s devotion to the network has many deep roots.
Born in Roswell on Nov. 22, 1944, he joined the Army in 1961.
After working in the aerospace industry until his retirement in 1988, his last job was with Northrup as an experimental machinist on the B-2 bomber project.
Duran married the love of his life and returned to Roswell to be close to family in 1988.
Once back home, Duran worked for Transportation Manufacturing Corporation and then for NOVA building buses.
After they had left, Duran started working for the state of New Mexico. He was theAFSCME president of local 3199 for five years, and was also a representative on the bargaining committee for two cycles. He was also the president of the Roswell Public Library Board and has worked in many positions for the Roswell Chamber of Commerce.
Duran’s family roots in Roswell, his time in the U.S. Army and his strong foundation of service as a union representative all inform his work and devotion every day.
Duran says he is honored to work with the Veterans’ Service Officers Richard Moncrief and Jim Cassidy as they help veterans to navigate their way through the bureaucracy to get the services they need.
He has also expressed gratitude for the Elks Lodge No. 969 for being the single largest donor to the network with their annual golf tournament.
“Ralph Brown organizes the golf tournament, so we named a van after him. We call it Ralphie.”
When Duran asks, “If not us, then who?” he isn’t asking a rhetorical question. He really wants to know who will help our veterans; who understands and appreciates the price these men and women have paid so that we can live our lives in safety and freedom?
The folks who stand up in answer to Duran’s question are doing work as vital to our nation as the service given by the veterans they serve.