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Duran takes to the road for veterans

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Magil Duran, president of the Southeast New Mexico Veterans Transportation Network, sits in the conference room in the office of the Roswell Daily Record. The network transports veterans to their medical appointments at no cost to the veteran. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Decades ago, Magil Duran served his country in the U.S. Army, but in recent years, he has adopted a new mission: helping his fellow veterans get access to medical care.

Though southeast New Mexico veterans have access to good quality healthcare, Duran said distance can often be an obstacle to veterans who need to travel, sometimes hours, for medical appointments.

“When you raised up your right hand and you stated to the government that you would go any place, do anything and come home — if you did that in your older age, they would take care of you if you needed any healthcare, but they didn’t say how to get there,” Duran said.

Duran, president of the Southeast New Mexico Veteran’s Transportation Network, said his organization works to connect military veterans in southeast New Mexico and west Texas to medical facilities and doctors at no expense to the veteran.

Without the work of the network and its team of 21 volunteer drivers — many of whom are veterans and family members of veterans — Duran said 40% of those the Network transports to medical appointments would not receive the medical care they need.

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Drivers transport veterans anywhere from medical facilities across town to those in west Texas or Albuquerque.

“And it is our honor and our privilege to do this,” Duran said.

Some counties have transportation provided by the U.S. Veterans Administration, but Duran said the network is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that does not receive and will not accept any money from the federal government. Instead, they make money to cover the cost of travel expenses, vehicle maintenance and other needs through fundraisers, private donations and grants from foundations.

Duran added that each year, drivers altogether travel between 160,000 and 180,000 miles to bring veterans to their medical appointments.

For Duran, now 74, the desire to serve others was instilled in him from an early age.

“Our mother always taught our whole family to contribute something,” he said.

Duran was born in Roswell, but at age 5, he and his family relocated to California. He grew up in Los Angeles around other children who were from an array of backgrounds. He said that he and the other children were all different but were all Americans.

As a boy in elementary school, he was a Red Feather Boy, part of a civic group that he likens to the United Way.

When he was 15 years old, Duran moved back to Roswell. The transition wasn’t easy and two years later, a week after he turned 17, Duran enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“And those were my formative years,” he said. “Those were the years I found out about the rest of the world.”

Duran was a 105-millimeter artillery gunman in the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division. He served from 1962 to 1965 before leaving the Army. After that, he did what so many other veterans did — he worked and started a family. He worked as a machinist.

In 1988, Duran moved back to Roswell and eventually worked for the New Mexico Department of Labor before retiring in about 2010.

Duran said he volunteers not only because it helps others, but it enriches him, too, by keeping him active and connected to the community.

“If you volunteer, you are involved — if you are you are involved, you are not gathering rust,” he said.

The network used to transport veterans from conflicts as far back as World War II.

“We had those old World War II vets that were absolutely the most wonderful men in the world and could keep you laughing all the way to Albuquerque with the stuff they did in the military,” Duran said.

In the last decade though, time has winnowed the number of World War II veterans still alive. It is now primarily veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars who are the network’s passengers. Duran said occasionally the network will provide a younger veteran for a ride, but they have a different mindset than veterans from past conflicts when it comes to accepting help.

“The vets of yesterday, they will accept help; the vets of today, they will keep quiet,” Duran said.

War has changed over the decades. Duran said in World War II, everyone was involved in the effort, and the enemy was more identifiable.

Today, veterans from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are afflicted by such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — also known as PTSD — and are in conflicts where the enemy is not always wearing a uniform. Duran said the enemy is nowhere, yet everywhere, launching surprise attacks in a war theater.

Soldiers now must be always on alert, ready for an enemy who is not easily identifiable to strike. That feeling that an enemy could be around every corner in a theater of war, that does not leave the solider when they leave the battlefield, Duran said.

Members of today’s military also are part of an all-volunteer military, made up of a much smaller percentage of the American people than in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, something that has led today’s veterans to often feeling more isolated, he said.

Nonetheless, just like past generations who put on the uniform, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan or who served in the military but did not see battle, have sacrificed. Duran said his organization will continue to serve every veteran they can.

As for Duran, he said he will continue his involvement with the network until the day he dies.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.