BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Sitting in the silence of a large room filled with nothing but chairs and a large desk is a man in an Air Force battle uniform. He wears a large badge below his left side blouse pocket flap, which indicates he is a defender. He pushes up to his left sleeve to his elbow revealing a black and white image of a sleeping griffin, representing a fallen friend. The griffin is resting on his stomach and clutching a set of dog tags in his front talons. Below the griffin written in roman numerals is the date April 3, 2008.
Tech Sgt. Frank Aguilar, 9th Reconnaissance Wing director of staff assistant, began his Air Force career in Security Forces, which is how he met Staff Sgt. Travis L. Griffen, known to Aguilar’s family and friends as Mr. Griff.
Aguilar said the deployment where he met Griffen was not like most deployments. It was 160 people, from many different bases and backgrounds, stuck together for a year in their own separate compound. Airmen got to know one another very well there.
“We were so close as a unit, even though I wasn’t directly involved with what caused Griff’s death, I really felt the impact of his loss.” said Aguilar. “I think, in a way, I have always had a little bit of survivor’s guilt.”
Over the past couple of years Aguilar was able to get more closure, slowly but surely by doing things like visiting Griffen’s grave. He was able to get to the point where he was finally at peace with what happened.
“I think if I had tried to write the book ‘Griff’s Gift’ sooner I would have had a lot more anger and raw emotion and the book would not have been as good as it is now,” he said. “My daughters grew up hearing about Griff and finally they have a book to hold onto and use to explain to others who he was.”
The book “Griff’s Gift” was written in an attempt to explain to Aguilar’s daughters who Mr. Griff was. Since Aguilar already had written children’s books, it felt fitting to write one, to explain Mr. Griff. Portraying his friend as a griffin seemed natural to him, and children connect with small pets, so a pet store was a perfect setting for this book.
“In my book there are dogs, cats, birds, snakes, and lizards,” said Aguilar. “The dog stands out because he is the only creature in the book who is threatening. The dog represents the threat we were facing out there in Afghanistan.”
Aguilar said, his daughters had a friend come over for the first time and they went upstairs to play. The first thing the visiting child did was to run back downstairs holding the book and exclaiming “look at this book that their dad wrote!” That moment made it very clear to Aguilar that when his girls make new friends they show off the “Griff’s Gift” book and he knows they can share the story and its meaning.
Aguilar has had to read the story many times over Skype and in person he said. Sometimes parents who buy the book ask him to read it to their kids and the kids love it.
“I’ve (even) read it to my first elementary school, a whole class of first and second graders over FaceTime.” he said. “They put me on the big TV screen in the room, but despite it being my own words, and no matter how many times I read it aloud the last page of ‘Griff’s Gift’ always makes my allergies act up just a little bit.” “…Griff is still watching over all of those pets. He’ll always protect them, he never forgets.”