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Face of Defense: Paralegal Succeeds in Army

By Army Spc. Allison Churchill
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq, July 9, 2008 – Army Spc. Matthew Duras decided to join the Army because he wanted to serve his country. Since becoming a soldier, he balances helping his fellow soldiers and reaching out to the community.

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Army Spc. Matthew Duras works in his office on Forward Operating Base Delta, Iraq. This is the first deployment for the West Deptford, N.J., native. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Allison Churchill, 41st Fires Brigade

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Duras brought a diverse educational and working background to the table when he joined the Army.

After earning an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Harcum College, in Bryn Mawr, Pa., in 1994 and a bachelor’s degree in the same field from Widener University, in Wilmington, Del., in 2001, Duras held a variety of jobs. He worked as a paralegal for DuPont and the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, but he didn’t initially consider the legal field for his Army career. Instead, after working at a truck assembly plant as a fire marshal -- a combination of being a security guard and a fire inspector -- and volunteering as a firefighter, Duras intended to use that experience and join as an Army firefighter.

“It seemed like the next step,” said Duras, who’s deployed with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 41st Fires Brigade.

But his recruiter looked at his educational background and told him about a different option, recommending that Duras join the Army as a paralegal.

“I was fortunate to have a really good recruiter,” the West Deptford, N.J., native said. “I’ve always been the type of person who likes to help someone out. The Army has helped me reach that goal.”

Before the brigade deployed, Duras’ normal day included preparing paperwork for nonjudicial judgments and separations from the Army and helping brigade lawyers during courts-martial. During his deployment here, he also writes power-of-attorney documents and processes damage claims from Iraqi citizens.

Duras’ superiors said they’re impressed with his work.

“He is a dedicated soldier with an incredible heart and an excellent paralegal,” said Army Capt. Patrick Gilman, the 41st Fires Brigade’s command judge advocate. Gilman administered the oath of enlistment when Duras re-enlisted in November.

When Duras isn’t in the office helping soldiers, he’s often representing them in public arenas. He said he was especially happy to take part in a Veterans Day ceremony before a race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It was like Christmas morning,” the NASCAR fan recalled about getting to walk up and down “Pit Road” before the race.

Duras also took time during his pre-deployment leave to reach out to his hometown. He was invited by a friend to throw the ceremonial first pitch at a Lakewood (N.J.) Blue Claws professional baseball game May 5. He said seeing his Army combat uniform sparked patriotism in the fans.

“A bunch of people thanked me, and a [father] and his daughter shook my hand,” Duras said.

Duras also made a video for the congregation of Gloucester County Community Church, which will be played over Veterans Day weekend.

When the 41st Fires Brigade completes its deployment, Duras is scheduled to relocate to Germany.

(Army Spc. Allison Churchill serves in the 41st Fires Brigade Public Affairs Office.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Corps Iraq
Multinational Force Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Matthew Duras throws the ceremonial first pitch at a Lakewood (N.J.) Blue Claws baseball game in Lakewood, N.J., May 5, 2008. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Spc. Matthew Duras poses with his family before a Lakewood (N.J.) Blue Claws baseball game May 5, 2008. Courtesy photo  
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