2009 Sailor of the Year
CECS (SCW/FMF) Lauro Garza, Sr.
He and wife Roxanne Starr have two grown children
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Most of the time, Senior Chief Construction Electrician (SCW/FMF) Lauro A. Garza doesn’t know the veteran being laid to rest at the national cemetery here.
But that doesn’t matter, because when Garza puts his Box Stradivarius trumpet to his lips, the haunting notes of “Taps” fill the air in a final tribute, a tribute he believes is the least he can do for a comrade.
“In Spanish, they call it ‘alma,’ from the soul or the heart,” he said. “The bugler on the recording might be very good, but mine has feeling. This is one of the things I can do to give back to the service members.”
Garza, a 45-year-old Reserve Seabee and the 2009 Navy Times Sailor of the Year, volunteers regularly at the cemetery, often playing “Taps” at back-to-back services using the trumpet he has owned since high school. The Iraq veteran — now preparing to deploy again, this time to the Pacific — also is called upon whenever a sailor or Marine is scheduled to be buried at the cemetery. He has played “Taps” at more than 800 funerals, including more than 150 in the past year.
In addition, he coordinates requests for blank ammunition used during the funerals, and visits wounded sailors at nearby Brooke Army Medical Center, volunteering to bring them groceries or completing electrical work at their homes.
When he’s not in uniform, Garza is the federal regulatory compliance officer for CPS Energy in San Antonio, where he lives. Seven years ago, when Garza was the company’s human resources manager, he proposed a new benefits policy for deployed reservists. The company adopted the policy, and employees now receive 30 days of full pay and six months of differential pay while they are deployed.
However, Garza, who is married to Roxanne Starr and has two grown children, downplays his contributions.
“When you’re a chief, you don’t tell people what you do, you just do it,” he said. “In a few years, this will be over, and it’ll be history. I never want to regret anything. This is not what I do. It’s who I am.”
Garza is the consummate Seabee, Command Master Chief (SCW/SS) Larry Heikkila wrote in his statement nominating Garza for Sailor of the Year.
“He is gregarious, intelligent, has a heart for others and is willing to take the hardest job to see if he can accomplish the mission,” Heikkila wrote, noting his volunteerism and extensive work organizing the area’s annual Seabee Ball. “He is almost tireless, but always has time to sit down to mentor a sailor.”
A personal beginning
Garza, assigned to 9th Naval Construction Regiment in Fort Worth, Texas, started playing the trumpet in the Boy Scouts when he was 11 and began bugling in 1992 when he joined the Navy.
The first funeral he played was for his paternal grandfather, an Army Air Corps veteran who died when Garza was 16.
“It’s a privilege … to do this,” Garza said. “I always pray before I play.”
In March 2003, Garza was mobilized for duty in Iraq. At the last minute, his unit did not deploy but spent four months at Port Hueneme and Fort Hunter-Liggett, both in California.
When he returned to San Antonio, Garza learned that a fellow senior chief and Seabee, Bob Westover, had been wounded and was recuperating at Brooke.
“So, I went and knocked on his door,” Garza said.“It’s our town. We try to make people at least feel like we’ve got them covered.”
One of the things Garza did was make sure Westover had a steady supply of milk to help him regain the weight he had lost.
“I’m the guy who can get him milk and stuff,” Garza said about Westover. “He’s the real hero.”
Garza, along with six other Navy chiefs who live in the area, continues to visit wounded troops at Brooke. The chiefs, known as the Alamo Chiefs, bring donations to the Fisher House and help wounded service members who need electrical or other types of work done at their homes.
In June 2005, Garza was mobilized again. This time, his unit deployed, and he served in Iraq’s Anbar province from September 2005 to March 2006.
“We’ve been tested now, under fire,” he said.
This summer, Garza and his fellow sailors will deploy to the Pacific, he said, adding that some day he would like to play “Taps” for a service member being interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
When he retires in a few years, Garza said he hopes to start a chiefs’ club to serve area veterans with everything from finding a job to doing work on their houses.
He just needs to finalize the business plan and secure funding, Garza said.
“It’s all about those people who are [buried at the cemetery] and those who will come after us,” he said. “It’s all about service. There’s no higher calling than to serve your country."