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Completing my family

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez)

(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Armando Vasquez)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --

Melissa Pandolf knew she always wanted a big family.

It's no wonder she decided to join the second largest military family in the U.S. Armed Forces back in 1993: The United States Air Force.

Moving up through the ranks and several Air Force careers, the technical sergeant, a Patchogue, New York resident, longed for a family of her own. Thus, her and her husband, Doug, began a journey to adopt children.

"I always wanted four children," said Melissa with a smile in her Long Island accent.

Subsequently, when the adoption process started, Melissa and Doug were excited to be adopting two siblings from Russia. Unbeknownst to them, the journey to grow their little family would take them several years, four trips to Russia, one trip to Washington, D.C., and an unwavering support from her friends and second family, the 108th Wing.

What began as an adoption process for two children turned into a challenge for four children. Melissa and Doug were unaware the two children they were adopting had two other siblings who were also up for adoption.

They couldn't bring themselves to separate the children, said Melissa, currently a health technician with the 108th Medical Group. So keeping them together would be their goal for the next several years.

Many tears were shed when they brought the first two children home and had to leave the other two behind as the adoption paperwork worked its way through the process.

"Melissa is head strong, knowledgeable and will fight for what she knows is right," said Senior Master Sgt. Sondra Lee Ramos, the superintendent of nursing services at the 108th MDG, and a close friend of Melissa.

All these qualities are what helped Melissa and her husband through the arduous adoption process. In addition, her military family supported her efforts to complete her personal family.

They were very accommodating to her needs, especially when she needed to take time off to travel abroad to complete the adoption paperwork, said Melissa.

She said she learned a lot about the adoption process and how difficult it can be. In addition, she wished there were some sort of reference book to help someone navigate the process and help them deal with all the different emotions an adoptive parent goes through.

Consequently, Melissa, through trial and error of the adoption process, hopes her journey will help others. She has written a book in the hopes that someone will benefit from her experience. The book was released this past winter.

Hopefully, her caring quality is appreciated by those who benefit from her book. For the Airmen of the 108th Medical Group, they've been benefiting from this quality for the past several years.

"She will make an excellent senior NCO and I see her becoming a first sergeant down the road," said Ramos. "She is a great medic and was a great medic, but the passion she has for standing up for other people will make her an amazing leader."

Not to mention, an amazing mom.