Gilbert car show

Gilbert resident Eric Ballester and the rest of the team at the nonprofit Shields & Stripes are holding a family-friendly free car show in Gilbert Saturday.(Special to GSN)

The Spencer Calzadilla Car Show & Wellness Expo – a free, family-friendly event to help Arizona’s active duty and veteran military and frontline responders grappling with PTSD and honoring the memory of Gilbert veteran Spencer Calzadilla – will be held in Gilbert next weekend.

The event will take place at the Gilbert Civic Center, 50 Civic Center Drive, from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10.

It is hosted by Shields & Stripes, a nonprofit with a mission to help first line defenders heal and live meaningful lives in service to their communities.

“While the mission is serious, the goal is to have fun,” the group said in a release.

Attendees will have a chance to enjoy a car show, which also features eye-catching motorcycles, trucks and bikes. There will also be food trucks, ice cream, cookies, raffles, a DJ and more.

First-line defenders and their loved ones will also have a chance to receive free health and wellness resources and connect with Shields & Stripes and other community organizations eager to help them.

“We decided to host this event with Spencer’s dad because Spencer was a big car enthusiast,” said Eric Ballester, the event organizer and Shields & Stripes treasurer.

Calzadilla, 28, took his life in March because of the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress.

“We hope this event increases awareness about the effects of PTSD and helps our first-line defenders and their loved ones understand they don’t have to go it alone, there’s help and hope,” Ballester said.

Ballester, of Gilbert, retired from the Air Force in March 2020 after 20 years of service, ending his career at the Joint Special Operations Command, 724th Special Tactics Group as a combat controller.

After graduating high school, he enlisted in the military like all the men in his family.

“Eric’s decision to become a special warfare commando was motivated by his passion for having the largest impact on the battlefield,” according to the biography on the nonprofit’s website.

“His exceptional ability to adapt and overcome and his drive to improve constantly propelled him past his peers resulting in his selection as the 2016 Combat Controller of the Year. His 10 combat deployments were in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and East Africa.

During his military career, he earned certifications as a combat controller, Ranger, freefall jumpmaster, Marine combatant diver, static-line jumpmaster, joint terminal attack controller – instructor, air traffic controller and air assault. He earned three 3 Bronze Stars, and Air Force Combat Action Medal, and Army and Air Force commendations.

He said he realized that after serving on 10 combat deployments, he had to prioritize his physical and mental health and helped form Shields & Stripes.

“I have an extended family that’s guiding me along this pathway to healing and understanding,” said Ballester. “My wife Sandra and I are paying it forward to reach out to other veterans like Spencer, before it’s too late, to make sure they’re getting the care and support we have benefited from so greatly.”

Proceeds from the event will fund Shields & Stripes A Hero’s Journey program, which provides customized mental, physical, cognitive and nutritional services to help first-line defenders heal and be their best selves.

Car show entries, vendor registration and sponsorship details can be found at tinyurl.com/SpencerCalzadilla.