by Dennis Andersen, special to Aerotech News
LANCASTER, Calif.–You could say Luis Gaxiola hit the “trifecta” on his birthday, with a drive-by salute from veterans groups, his Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department comrades, and the Blue Star Mothers, parents of active duty military personnel.
Gaxiola, who just turned 51, has had plenty of tough challenges in his life.
Thirty or so years ago, just into young adulthood, he deployed as a paratrooper with the famed 82nd Airborne Division into Operation Desert Shield, and Operation Desert Storm.
“We were with the 82nd Airborne Division, going into Iraq,” Gaxiola recalled.
He was part of what Gen. “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf called “the hammer,” with the coalition’s armored divisions serving as the “anvil.”
Almost 20 years later, as an Army Reservist with a civil affairs unit, he served a deployment in 2009 during the Iraq War.
“He served on three deployments,” said his wife, Sylvia Gaxiola, who has been a prominent mover and shaker with the Blue Star Mothers Antelope Valley Chapter for more than a decade.
“That third one was in Bosnia,” he said. “That one hardly counts. We were, um, peace-keeping.”
In between, he joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and has worked as a deputy in the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station. And he’s been peace-keeping there for years in between his Army commitments, finally retiring from the military after a 23-year career, finishing out as a senior non-commissioned officer.
The toughest challenge has been a series of recent surgeries that put the tough paratrooper veteran through the mill.
“They keep cutting stuff out, and pretty soon it’s all going to be tied together with scar tissue,” Gaxiola joked.
The balloons streamed from the Blue Star Mothers vehicles. The Patriot Guard Riders and American Legion Riders Post 311, provided the motorcycle escort, and the Sheriff’s Department turned on the lights and sirens.
Showing up to salute a warrior who just finished a 16-day hospital stay included supporters from Coffee4Vets, Vets4Veterans and Point Man of the Antelope Valley, as well as veterans’ outreach from High Desert Medical Group.
“We want to thank all of you,” Sylvia Gaxiola said. “You made this very special for all of us.”
Since the restrictions and shelter-in-place guidance put into effect because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Antelope Valley veteran groups, Sheriff’s Department, and other first responders, have been doing “drive-by honors and salutes” for veterans of all generations and conflicts returned from hospital stays.
Editor’s note: Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker with High Desert Medical Group who works on veterans and community mental health initiatives. An Army paratrooper veteran, he deployed twice with Antelope Valley troops of the National Guard during the Iraq War as embedded journalist.