Southeast New Mexico Veteran’s Transportation Network President Magil Duran, right, hands out crocheted blankets to volunteer drivers Friday at a luncheon. (Jill McLaughlin Photo)
Southeast New Mexico Veterans Transportation Network thanked its several volunteer drivers with a special luncheon celebration Friday at the Roswell Elks Lodge.
The drivers took turns standing up and telling the group how much the work they did meant to them.
“I really get a lot of enjoyment out of helping the guys who have given so much for us,” said Chuck Russell.
Ret. Col. Ron McKay, who is on the board, thanked the group.
“Thank you drivers for doing all of your work,” McKay said.
Magil Duran said he was proud to serve as the president of the network.
“We wanted to let you know you’re not alone,” Duran said. “It’s the reason we wanted to do this luncheon. Thank you for everything you do.”
The men and women drivers spend hours each week transporting veterans to medical appointments from their homes across west Texas to Albuquerque.
The all-volunteer transportation service operates on donations and regularly transports veterans to appointments at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque for specialty treatment.
The Veterans Administration health care system has an outpatient clinic in Artesia, staffed by two VA doctors, but patients often must travel to Albuquerque for specialty care.
This year, the group drove 912 veterans and traveled 641,811 miles without an accident, Duran said.
The group is in the process of acquiring new vehicles, said Greg Neal, vice president of the organization.
One driver, John Wise of Hobbs, has volunteered to drive veterans from Hobbs to cities in Texas and New Mexico for nearly five years.
After serving in the Army and as a veteran of the Vietnam War, he started driving after recovering from his own medical scare.
“I was extremely sick and someone told me to go to the VA, so I did,” Wise said. “I was driving to Albuquerque for all of those appointments. It was next to impossible.”
Wise found the SENM Veterans Transportation Network, he said.
“They really bailed me out,” Wise said. “Once I got functional, I started driving. I figured it was one way I could pay back some of it.”
Wise now drives at least twice a week, sometimes as often as every day. He takes veterans to appointments in Big Spring, Amarillo, Lubbock and Roswell.
Sometimes he gets burned out, he said. But then he thinks about those who are worse off than him.
He’s met veterans from Vietnam, Korea, World War II, Iraq and Afghanistan. The group has built up camaraderie, he said.
“Some are younger than me,” Wise said. “I always talk myself back into continuing it.”