There are many reasons San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy Eric Rose admires Sal Aguirre.

Aguirre spent most of his life serving others. He joined the Marine Corps just a few days after he graduated from high school in 1989 and soon found himself in some of the harshest areas of the world including Somalia during the country's civil war.

As part of Operation Restore Hope, Aguirre and his comrades helped open up the food lines, said Aguirre.

"When we landed in Somalia, there were 300 people dying a day from starvation."

Rose met the Menifee husband and father of three when Rose joined the National Guard in 2008. Aguirre was Rose's fire team leader out of March Air Force Base.

The veteran continued to serve after he left the military by joining the Riverside County Sheriff's Department on Feb. 5, 2008, his birthday.

But Aguirre faced his hardest battle just a few months ago when he learned he learned he had Acute Monocytic Leukemia.

On May 9, he was on his way to work at the Lake Elsinore station when he called his wife and told her he wasn't feeling very well. He told her he had an upset stomach and his gums were bleeding.

His wife quickly used Google to find out about the symptoms and called her husband back telling him to get to a doctor. It may be leukemia.

After a few hours, their worst fears had been confirmed. Aguirre did indeed have cancer.

He learned his white blood cell count was extremely low. A healthy person's white blood cell count can range from 6,000 to 11,000. Aguirre's was 106.

"The doctor told me I wasn't going home that day," Aguirre recalled. He spent the next 56 days in the hospital.

After two induction chemotherapy treatments, Aguirre was in remission, but the doctors warned him the cancer could return if he didn't get a bone marrow transplant. But that was easier said than done.

After ruling out his brother and several cousins - Aguirre's best bet for a match - he turned to a bone marrow registry.

Unfortunately, he learned that Hispanics and blacks make up the smallest number of bone marrow registrants.

"I think they're just scared because they don't know what it takes to register," Aguirre said. "A lot of people think they're going to get a spinal tap and that's just not true. It all starts with a Q-tip swab."

Aguirre explained that once a person goes through an online screening process at www.BeTheMatch.com, potential donors are sent a kit in the mail.

After following the instructions in the kit and using four Q-tip swabs to obtain DNA samples, the kit is sent back and processed. If the registrants are found to be a potential match for someone, the organization contacts them and asks if they want to continue the donation process.

"I tell people so sign up even if they aren't a match for me because if they can save a life, why wouldn't they do it," Aguirre said.

But for Rose, he feels it's important for everyone to give back to a man who not only gave to his country as a military veteran, but someone who continues to serve his community as a deputy.

"He helped shape me into the airman and deputy I am," Rose said.

"His work ethic, moral character, principles. There was never a bad thing to take away from Sal. He has always been there for us and now it's our turn to watch out for him."

To register as a bone marrow donor, visit www.BeTheMatch.com.

To follow Aguirre's story, visit his website at www.SalsStory.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/SalsStory.

beatriz.valenzuela@inlandnewspapers.com

909-386-3921, @IEBeatriz