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Veteran Navigator

Shawn Durnen greets veterans at Clover Park Technical College

Former JBLM soldier Shawn Durnen recently took over as the Veteran Navigator at Clover Park Technical College. Durnen will serve as a guide for all of the veteran students at the college. Courtesy photo

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As the new school year kicked off at Clover Park Technical College, a familiar face in a new role greeted students at the Veteran Resource Center.

Shawn Durnen, who was previously in their shoes, assumed the position of Veteran Navigator at the college and got the seat behind the desk.

Durnen went directly from high school into the Army and then spent the majority of his time at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Specifically, he was assigned to 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade and he deployed to Iraq for 15 months with that unit between 2009-2010, before choosing to end his time of service.

"I was a brand new dad again and was about to leave the Army. It was terrifying because I realized I had to rebuild from the ground up, again," Durnen explained. "I didn't know anything other than the military at that point."

After returning to the workforce, he first went to CPTC to obtain his environmental compliance certification. As the years passed, his employer suggested that he return to CPTC and pursue an environmental science degree.

"The Veteran Resource Center got me involved and made me try to be better," Durnen admitted. 

That is also how he met his mentor, Jonathan Wagner, the previous Veteran Navigator, who was actually named the 2014 Member for the Year by the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs before family matters forced him to vacate the position. Wagner immediately recommended Durnen for the spot.

"I feel like it is about maintaining the mission that this office has always had and helping our community set higher standards and higher goals for themselves so they can transition from veteran students into the future leaders they are meant to be," Durnen said.

In the few weeks since he took the position, Durnen has added a TBI potluck to the calendar, coordinated with the Tacoma mobile veteran center to come out to campus and do intakes, etc., and continued to reach out to local veteran service organizations.

"There are always challenges that present themselves, but the truth is that I love this job. Maintaining that communication means you can watch where they start and see where they finish," he shared.

The veteran compared what he does to triage in that every situation is different and every day varies. Furthermore, there is no set protocol when it comes to how to help a student but you do need to be there for them and do everything you can to make things work for them.

"I love helping the people that I help but I do have other goals for myself eventually," Durnen shared, adding that it includes finishing his degree, which has been put on pause for now.

While he is not entirely sure of what that future next step will be, he knows he wants to work with the public and maybe get into compliance and health and safety so that he can ensure that people are being taken care of, whether that means a warm meal or housing.

"My motto is that I like to be the difference," he stated.

The Veterans Resource Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday...but according to Durnen, going beyond that isn't out of the question.

"My advice to those leaving the military - it is never too late to start over and never too late to identify what you want to do with your life," he said. "There are options when you get out of the service. My hat is off to you and my door is always open to you."

To reach the CPTC Veteran Navigator, call 253.589.5966.

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