TEHACHAPI, Calif. (KERO) — Many military families are separated during the holidays, so it's always extra special when they can come home. In Tehachapi, the joy was doubled.
Two servicemembers, Midshipman Candidate Layla Lujan and Marine Private Xander Scaggs, grew up on the streets of Tehachapi, raised by a community that has known them since they were in diapers. Now, it's welcoming them home for the holidays with flags and open arms.
"It was really heartwarming," said Lujan. "I knew that we were coming to do this, but I didn't know it was going to be that turnout. I didn't know it was going to be a whole parade down the boulevard."
For Skaggs, the joy of coming home for the holidays was mutual.
"It felt very warm. I was excited putting on the uniform this morning to come see everybody," said Skaggs.
The community was just as excited as Skaggs. Whispers of 'Wow, they are so grown,' and 'We are so proud' were frequent as both servicemembers made it to their surprise celebration, which was held at Lujan's father's restaurant.
"Wow, I am home," said Lujan. "This is it. I finally made it home. It is definitely comforting, seeing everybody, seeing familiar faces."
It had been a familiar face that led 18-year-old Lujan to become a midshipman candidate at the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Virginia. Hearing stories of her grandpa during Vietnam, she decided this was the path for her.
But it hasn't been easy to be away from all she's known, either for her or for her parents.
"When the separation happened and we flew back home, that was very difficult," said Lujan's father Mano. "Walking in the house, making breakfast and she is not there, and you think, 'Oh well, it is no big deal,' but the longer it goes on, the longer it really starts to prey on you."
Now that Layla's home, her father is happy to again make her breakfast and enjoy here while she's here.
And although he's not Mano's son, Lujan also has a special connection to Private Xander Scaggs. Layla and Xander grew up together, and Skaggs also worked at Lujan's family restaurant for almost two years during high school.
Skaggs and Lujan are now sharing a stronger bond; the pain of knowing what it's like to be away from family.
"Not seeing them at all for the first month was really, really hard," said Skaggs. "I missed them a lot, and then we had letters, and it made it easier being away from home knowing I had the letters and I could see their love on a piece of paper."
Skaggs says he was just 10 years old when he felt inspired by family friends who were in the Marine Corps. Flash forward and now he's just graduated boot at Camp Pendleton after three long months. He is happy the timing was just right for him to spend the holiday at home, and his parents agree.
"It's kinda like, 'What do you want for dinner?'" explained Skaggs' father Brian. "It's all about him, but it's also about us. You know he is going to be gone a couple days after, so it's like enjoy him and get to be with him as much as you can while he is here."
Lujan and Skaggs are both grateful to be here and hoping they can have many more holidays with the family.