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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | March 30, 2015

Air Force Home Makeover: JBA Edition

By Airman 1st Class Ryan J. Sonnier 11th Wing Public Affairs

Recently, more than 45 Joint Base Andrews volunteers came together to help an 89th Communications Squadron Airman renovate his family's house to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Tech. Sgt. Melvin Mateo, 89 CS Government Network Operations Center crew chief, said he was extremely grateful people were so willing to help him during a difficult time for his family.

After 13 years of marriage, while stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Mateo and his wife found out they were pregnant.

"At 21 weeks, during the ultrasound, several abnormalities were found," he said. "The doctor gave us an option to terminate the pregnancy, but it is against our Catholic-Christian beliefs. If the baby wanted to fight for a chance at life, we would allow it."

Due to the complications of Mildred's pregnancy, in January 2012, the couple was medically evacuated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

"Rebekah needed surgical procedures but Landstuhl Regional Medical Center [in Germany] didn't have the pediatric surgical capabilities," Mildred said.

Upon arrival to the U.S., the family stayed at the Fisher House in Bethesda.

At birth, Rebekah was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit where she stayed for one-and-a-half months.

Two weeks after his daughter's birth, Mateo had to return to Germany to work on Exceptional Family Member Program reassignment and out processing. Mildred stayed at the Fisher House stateside.

Once Rebekah was released from the hospital, they moved to Joint Base Andrews Fisher House until Mateo was reunited with his family. The staff of JBA Fisher House allowed them to extend their stay until they could move into base housing.

"We didn't have family in the area. We had a family friend that we met in our church in Germany who became like our immediate family," Mildred said. "My sister lives in New York but would visit on the weekends."

Mildred also said that staying at the Fisher House, both on Bethesda and JBA, was a blessing to her family. The families there provided each other moral support through difficult times.

"My husband's gaining-unit leadership met Rebekah and I before they met him. His commander's family met me and help me move from Bethesda to Andrews," Mildred said. 'Rebekah had a lot of doctor's appointments and someone from the squadron would drive us to and from the hospital."

Two and a half years later, in October 2014, Mateo and his family purchased a home closer to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where Rebekah receives her medical care.

"We were looking for a very specific house, for Rebekah's situation. We needed a one-story house with an attached garage that had direct access to the interior," he said. "The holidays were coming up and she was about to have a major surgery, so I decided to start renovating."

Space, he said, was the biggest concern. Everything, Rebekah needed a bigger bedroom, closet, an ADA bathroom and wider hallways. They need to be able to move Rebekah around the house with her mobility equipment without difficulty.

"My commander and First Sergeant mentioned my situation to a Chaplain, who then helped organize volunteers to assist me with my project," he said. "The money I have saved in labor alone is more than $20,000, and I can't begin to put an amount on the time saved."

Lt. Col. Vincent Lau, 89 CS commander, stated that the term "Air Force Family" is often used, but it is instances like these that remind us of the truth behind that motto.

"I think it is absolutely fantastic that the Air Force is full of people like those who have come out to help the family," Lau said.

Mateo is no stranger to volunteer work himself, he has volunteered for the Fisher House, Habitat for Humanity and other organizations.

"It has been an amazing, great blessing to be on the receiving end of this volunteer work, and a humbling experience," Mateo said as he fought back tears. "I think God knew my wife and I had what it takes to care for our daughter."

They both rely on their faith to guide them on their journey.

"I believe God is with us; his grace sustains us and he sends his people along the way to help us out," Mildred added.