LEAVENWORTH -- Prior to deploying to Afghanistan for the third time, Sgt. Leandro "Lando" Jasso often spent Friday nights with his friend, Sgt. Brian Kaniuka, talking about the upcoming deployment.
"I could see the excitement Jasso had for this trip," Kaniuka said on Sunday. "He was ready to prove himself, but more importantly, he was eager to prove to his Rangers that he was the leader of men that he so deeply aspired to be."
Early morning Nov. 24, Kaniuka and Jasso were in the Nimruz Province in southwestern Afghanistan. Kaniuka approached Jasso after he'd just cleared an objective.
"I can see that patented Jasso smirk on his face and hear the excitement in his voice," Kaniuka said. "I asked him, 'You get anybody in there?' Jasso emphatically replied with 'Hell yeah.'"
Jasso was killed later that day during a firefight with al Qaeda. According to NATO, Jasso's unit, 2nd Battalion, 75 Ranger Regiment, was partnered with Afghan soldiers and one of those soldiers accidentally shot him during a close-quarters battle. He was 25.
Hundreds gathered on Sunday at the Cascade High School gymnasium to remember the Leavenworth native. Many more lined the streets in Leavenworth and East Wenatchee as the procession passed by.
Jasso's father, Gabe Jasso, his mother, Betty Palmer, and his brother, Esai Jasso, were presented with American flags by the Army at the conclusion of ceremonies.
Kaniuka escorted Jasso's body home from Afghanistan. Speaking to attendees who filled the gym, he recounted Jasso's last morning.
"In that moment in that faraway corner of the world, I knew Jasso was exactly where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do," Kaniuka said.
Jasso enlisted in the Army after graduating from Cascade High School in 2012 and he earned the Ranger designation in 2013. He served as a rifleman from July 2013 to December 2016 and then as an automatic rifleman from December 2016 to November 2018.
His awards and decorations include the Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, Army Achievement Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Combat Star, the NATO Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.
He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal and Joint Service Commendation Medal with "C" device.
But before he was a decorated Ranger, he took English classes from Andrea Brixey at Cascade High.
"Part of the mystery of Lando is how someone who stayed away from crowds and who questioned authority -- always -- is being remembered today with this giant crowd in an institution with maybe every authority figure in his life present," Brixey told the audience. "Lando was special."
Brixey said that in speaking with others in the two weeks since his death she learned Jasso found purpose, something she called "finding your bliss."
"Lando was an excellent teacher at how to find and follow your bliss because as much as anyone I have ever known, Lando was deep into a love affair with the candle of life that flickers in us all," Brixey said.
Larry Pierce is the director of the Washington Youth Academy, a quasi-military training school for at-risk high schoolers, which Jasso attended from July to December 2011. He described Jasso as a quiet and humble leader with a mischievous streak.
"As a student, he consistently worked hard and was recognized as a top performer," Pierce said. "As a leader, he could always be relied upon to get the job done."
He added, "He led from the front and showed compassion for his fellow cadets in the true spirit of servant leadership. As a follower, his character and selflessness contributed to the success of his squad and platoon."
Kaniuka, Jasso's best friend of four years, saw those same traits in him.
"I find peace knowing that you had become the Ranger and leader of men that you'd grown up idolizing," Kaniuka said. "For the rest of my life, I'll do my best to live life completely -- exactly how you did, Jass."
He closed with, "Until I see you again, bud, keep some whisky ready for me up there."
This article is written by Pete O'Cain And Reilly Kneedler from The Wenatchee World, Wash. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.