Illinois State student Chris Aguayo is spending his first Veterans Day since leaving the Army as a mini-celebrity, after being featured on a reality TV show Sunday night.
Aguayo was featured in Sunday’s episode of Fox Sports’ West Coast Customs, which chronicles a well-known California-based car customization company, as well as a related web video series called The Road Home. Aguayo was recognized for his work helping fellow veterans and active-duty service members through Task Force Legion, a special military-focused paintball team he launched in 2011.
Aguayo was one of only three veterans featured in the Road Home project, a joint effort between eBay Motors, West Coast Customs, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). As part of the filming of the web video in Illinois two months ago, Aguayo was surprised when the producers gave him a custom-made Task Force Legion off-road van that was tricked out by West Coast Customs.
“It’s definitely life-changing. It’s something I never expected to have happen to me,” said Aguayo, a freshman political science major at Illinois State.
Video: Check out Chris’ video from The Road Home:
Aguayo, a sergeant, served eight years in the Army, including two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Two years ago, he created Task Force Legion, a unique paintball team that now has close to 80 members across four states. The team has a command-and-rank structure—just like the military.
But it’s about more than paintball. Aguayo wanted to give back to the military community and saw paintball as a potential “buffer” for active-duty soldiers and veterans suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, while offering an adaptive sport to disabled veterans.
For Aguayo, who hopes to someday run for state political office, paintball became therapeutic.
“It just goes back to brotherhood,” Aguayo said. “It reconnects us to a lot of the positive things that happened (during our service), and that bond and strength that we have.”
In July, Aguayo shared his story—and the team’s story—after seeing a request for submissions on the IAVA Facebook page. By September, a film crew was interviewing Aguayo and getting footage of Task Force Legion in action. But Aguayo didn’t know about the West Coast Customs van until a surprise knock on his apartment door toward the end of filming. He was blown away, but had to keep it a secret until this weekend, when the episode of West Coast Customs aired and the web video was posted.
“I’m still waiting for a police officer to pull me over and ask me what the van is,” he joked.
Aguayo hopes the van will be good publicity for his paintball team, which has sponsors including All Things Upholstered, ANS Gear, Wounded Wear, Lock-N-Load Java, Scarab Arms, and Oscar Mike.
Despite all the attention, Aguayo says Veterans Day is a day of reflection on the service of others.
“I did my time. I paid my dues and my sacrifice,” he said. “Today’s about those who are still continuing to do it.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.