MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho - A small crowd gathered
outside the secure area exit at Boise Airport. It was late
on a weekday, so the small airport was largely abandoned,
save for a few families waiting for their loved ones.
Among the anxious crowd were family and friends of Tech
Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley — an Airman from the 366th
Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base,
Idaho, whose months of searching, legal struggles and even
dodging protests in Ukraine, led to this pivotal moment.
Then, a familiar face pushing a stroller came through
It was Jamie with her newly adopted
daughter, Sandie. The sight of her two sons and husband
brought tears to Jamie's eyes.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley,
366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, poses for a photo with her twin
sons, Wolfgang and Jaeger, and her newly adopted daughter Oleksandra
at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on May 6, 2014. (U.S. Air
Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
She kissed and hugged them, then introduced the twins to
their new sister.
Finally, the reunited family turned
their attention to the friends standing behind them, waiting
for their chance to meet 2-year-old Sandie.
Tschampl and his wife, Capt. Lauren Tschampl, recalled the
joy and optimism they felt welcoming Jamie and Sandie home.
“That little girl just won the parent lottery,” said
Mark, a long-time friend of the family. “She may not know it
for a while, but [she] is going to have a fantastic life.”
Jamie and her husband, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, who
serves with the 366th Component Maintenance Squadron, did
not take the choice to adopt lightly. The couple wanted to
make sure they made the right decisions for the long term.
“When I met Ernie, I didn't really think I wanted to
have kids,” said Jamie. “Even when I was a little kid, I
knew there were lots of little kids who didn't have mommies
Eventually, in addition to Ernie's
daughter from a previous marriage, Jewel, they did have
children – twins by the names of Wolfgang and Jaeger,
affectionately called “Wolfie” and “Yogie.”
topic of adoption came up.
For this Air Force couple,
adoption wasn't enough. They wanted to give a better life to
a child who wouldn't receive the help he or she needed in
their home country, whether or not he or she was adopted.
They started by trying to adopt a special needs child
“You see these kids on photo listings,
and, for me, they spoke to my heart,” said Jamie. “They
don't have the Americans With Disabilities Act [protecting
them], so they don't have ways to get on trains, to get into
apartments; they don't have elevators that are big enough
for wheelchairs. There are no ramps into restaurants. I
thought, ‘Man, this kid's going to get the short end of the
Unfortunately, adoption was put on hold.
The Dima Yakovlev Act was signed into law in Russia and
took effect Jan. 1, 2013. Among other things, it banned the
adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. Disheartened,
but still hopeful, they looked elsewhere while promising
themselves to try Russia again once the borders were
reopened for adoption.
They turned to Ukraine because
the adoption process was similar to what Russia's had been,
and because the country was similarly limited in its
accommodations for people with disabilities. That's where
they found Oleksandra, also known as Sandie.
and Ernie traveled to Ukraine in search of a child to adopt
Nov. 29, 2013, leaving their sons in the care of family.
Civic unrest had been building prior to their arrival, and
the idea of being in Kiev, one of the areas affected by
protests, was unnerving to Jamie.
“I was totally
scared the first night, plotting where the embassies were
and where I could run to if something happened,” Jamie said.
The couple took a train to Donetsk, where the orphanage
was located, and met Sandie for the first time.
handed her to us, and our dream became a reality,” said
Ernie. “I was ecstatic.”
“At that point, I don't
think [anything else] really mattered,” Jamie said. ”It was
love at first sight. I knew she was meant for us.”
Life in Ukraine wasn't easy for Sandie. With a cleft palate
and limited access to medical care, she was hand-fed the
entire time she lived at the orphanage. Staff members would
hold her steady and only feed her bread soaked in milk so
she didn't have to chew and wouldn't risk choking. She
wasn't allowed to make choices for herself and despite being
2 years old, she wore clothing made for children less than
half her age.
The couple wasn't able to bring Sandie
home on that trip, they began the adoption process. Jamie
later returned by herself to finally adopt her new daughter
and bring her to the United States.
In her first week
in her new home, Sandie learned to chew, try new foods and
even use sign language to ask for more food. While she used
to eat in total silence, she came out of her shell and was
very vocal about her desire for more food, causing her to
gain a full pound.
“She seems to be more vocal, she's
closer to being able to walk and the interaction she has
with her brothers ? it's a natural bond,” Lauren said.
While the ability to form words still eludes Sandie,
hearing a new language hasn't hampered her ability to
“She doesn't seem to mind that we speak
English,” Jamie said. “She seems to understand what we're
While Sandie's new parents are
reveling in the love they feel for their new daughter, they
also credit their military family with creating a positive
environment for their new family member.
the community, being in the military, [we knew that]
regardless of the race the child was, or the health issues,
or the physical disabilities she had, we would be accepted
by the people we worked around,” Jamie said.
couple received more than just support, but also genuine
curiosity and enthusiasm toward the adoption.
wasn't sure what kind of feedback I would receive when I
mentioned to my friends that we were going to adopt a
child,” Ernie said. “I haven't had a negative comment, no
odd looks, but questions. We have a few friends, since we
started doing this, who want to [adopt as well.]”
couple expressed strong feelings about the need for good
homes for orphans, especially in Eastern Europe. They said
they hope their story will inspire others to follow in their
“If I can be a catalyst for someone else's
adoption, that's amazing,” Jamie said. “Everyone thinks how
lucky [Sandie] is and how much we've changed her life, but
she's changed us just as much. We're so lucky to have her.”
Ultimately though, it's all about giving Sandie a home.
“When she's sad, she has someone to hug her. She's got
brothers [and a sister] who want to teach her to do bad
stuff, I'm sure, like how to get snacks out, or not go to
bed when she's supposed to,” Jamie said. “She knows she has
a mommy and daddy who love her.”
More photos available below
By U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse
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