Taking the Long Way Home

The Duron family at Mount Rushmore in July 2021
The Duron family at Mount Rushmore in July 2021

After graduating from Fort Collins High School in 2004, Priscilla Duron (B.A., ’19) felt her life was lacking meaningful direction. Working three part-time jobs, she knew there was little, if any, possibility to pursue a four-year degree. But that all changed one afternoon.

“I was literally just laying on my bed one day and I got up and went to the Army recruiting station. I wasn’t planning on doing it, but that’s how it happened,” said Duron, a Fort Collins native. No one in her immediate or close extended family had served in the military, so there was no family tradition guiding her. It was a bold move to jump start her career.

“When you think of the Army, you think of the commercials showing people repelling from helicopters and doing other action-oriented things,” she said. That perception informed her decision to join 91 Bravo and become a vehicle mechanic. Wheeled vehicles make up the majority of the U.S. Army’s fleet, mostly Jeeps and trucks rather than tanks. Mechanics are responsible for making sure all those vehicles are fully operational and maintained.

“I’m a person who likes puzzles and things that work my mind, and mechanical work is kind of like that.” To prepare her to be a mechanic, Duron received basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, and then went on to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for vehicle training before being stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state. Three months later, she was deployed to Iraq for a year.

Priscilla-Duron headshot
Priscilla Duron, 2004

Starting with a bang

The first night in Iraq, the unit Duron was traveling with were removing their gear from the transport truck when they came under a mortar attack. Fortunately, no one was injured as they waited out the assault in bunkers. The next morning, she shipped out to a base in southern Iraq, which would occasionally come under mortar and rocket attacks as well.

Working in a war zone has a way of focusing the mind on the things that really matter. Duron planned to stay in the service for only three years and use her mechanic training in civilian life to support herself while earning a four-year degree, but she ended up staying in the Army much longer.

After returning from Iraq, she was again stationed at Fort Lewis, but a year later was redeployed to Japan. While stationed in Camp Zama (southwest of Tokyo), she met and married Jesús Duron, who worked in human resources for the U.S. Army, and gave birth to two children, Jesús and Azaria (now ages 12 and 11 years old respectively).

The family was still living there in March of 2011 when the massive earthquake and tsunami struck off the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island. A few days later, Duron’s mother flew to Japan and picked up the children (then only 20-months and five-months old) and brought them back to the United States until the aftershocks subsided.

Returning to her roots

Only after joining the Army did Duron discover that the GI Bill would cover college tuition, as well as provide money for housing and books. “I’ll be able to go to school!” she said. “Oh, my goodness, this is awesome!”

When she and her husband left military service in 2013, the family settled in Fort Collins where Duron began attending Colorado State University as a first-generation student.

As if being a first-generation student wasn’t challenging enough, Duron was also a parent, which prevented her from participating as fully as she wanted in campus life. “My first semester was really hard because I didn’t know anybody, I couldn’t relate to anybody, no one else had kids. But then I discovered the Adult Learner and Veteran Services and that’s when I found my people. That was key to my whole university career: finding my community and getting involved.”

ALVS was vital to Duron’s success, and she later worked with them as a peer counselor while earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in criminology and criminal justice.

“I would rather have attended CSU right after high school,” said Duron, “but the way I did it, my kids got to see the hard work it takes and how dedicated I had to be to juggle everything and still make it happen. I think it taught them a valuable lesson.”

The adventure continues

As a student, Duron completed a six-month internship with the Larimer County Probation Department in the Adult Drug and Alcohol Program. That experience inspired her to want a career in the legal field, specifically as an attorney specializing in family law. She took the Law School Admission Test in anticipation of attending law school but has since put that dream on hold in light of her commitment to parenting.

“Going to law school is my number one goal. I don’t care that I’m older it’s just something I really want to do.” Until that day arrives, Duron is working in human resources with the Plains Area of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she works with more than 1,000 employees throughout a 10-state region.

“I’m very thankful for everything that happened the way it did,” she said. “I love CSU. It was awesome. Growing up in Fort Collins and driving past campus, I thought, ‘I’ll never go there.’ But then having the opportunity to attend was like coming full circle for me and I’m very proud of that.”