HESPERIA — One stormy night in a small pet shop left in shambles, a group of pets wishing to be adopted meet Griff the Griffin after a bolt of lightning flashes across the sky, which brings the mythological creature to the shop to aid the pets.
“Griff’s Gift,” written by United States Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank Aguilar, a former Hesperia resident, is a story about friendship and loss as the book portrays Aguilar's fallen comrade, Travis Lee Griffin, and how one person made a difference in the lives of so many people through the gift of friendship.
The story is told for children to relate to and understand, while simultaneously speaking deeply to those who truly remember Griffin, as it follows the story of Griff the Griffin and the huge impact he had on those whom he came in contact with at a pet shop. Although Griff’s time at the shop is short, his friends will always remember the good times they shared as Griff continues to watch over the pets, even after he is gone.
“Travis was a hero. He was also a father, a leader, a mentor and most importantly a friend,” Aguilar said. “He was selfless and had a way to appeal to every person he met. There wasn’t a single person that I knew who did not like Griff."
Aguilar was new to the military when he first met Griffin at the Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico in 2007 as part of his unit’s training section. Shortly after, Aguilar discovered that he and a handful of other soldiers in his unit were tasked for a year-long deployment to Baghdad, Iraq.
Once they arrived in Baghdad, Aguilar and Griffin, along with their other fellow soldiers, quickly formed an unbreakable friendship. However, on April 3, 2008, Griffin was killed when a roadside bomb detonated underneath his vehicle.
“We all were shocked when we lost him. Nothing was the same after that moment," Aguilar said. "When someone is gone everyone copes in different ways, but for a lot of people and even myself, losing Griff was one of the hardest things we had ever encountered."
It was early in 2015 on the anniversary of Griffin's death when Aguilar was inspired to write a story about his fallen comrade as a means to not only share with his children the impact his friend left behind during his final tour overseas, but also the importance of friendship, loss and moving forward.
“It was over a year ago. I had been writing random children stories for my kids as a sort of hobby,” Aguilar said. “My kids knew him as Mr. Griff, but they didn’t really understand why he was so important in my life or what he did that was so impactful. Later, I began to tell myself it would be a good idea to write his story, to show how he affected those around him and what kind of person Griff was.”
Aguilar began to put words on paper and wrote his book in just three weeks. Word soon spread about Aguilar’s book as family, friends and other comrades close to Griffin began to lend a hand to make Aguilar's publishing dreams come true. People on his team turned to social media and made a Facebook and GoFundMe.com page to help get his book published.
“When we had raised enough money to publish my book, it brought Griffin’s mother to tears,” Aguilar said. “We’re coming up on nine years since he’s been gone and this is proof that no one has forgotten. I don't think we'll ever forget.”
With his book receiving positive online reviews, Aguilar hopes to increase his book sales in order to benefit the Griffin Memorial Scholarship, a program that provides funding to wounded defenders — security force members of the Air Force — and family members of those wounded or killed in action.
“I'm glad I was able to honor the memory of my friend this way. It was an amazing experience seeing so many people pull together to accomplish something so simple, yet so meaningful,” Aguilar said.
The book is available for purchase online through Amazon.com.
Monica Solano can be reached at MSolano@VVDailyPress.com or at 760-951-6231. Follow her on Twitter @DP_MonicaInes