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Face of Defense: Airman Reaches Out to Ethiopian Children

By Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Stevenson
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2010 – For one Air Force family stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, the service’s focus on the Year of the Air Force Family means providing an even greater impact by meeting the needs of others through adoption.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Col. John Marselus and his wife, Kim, pose for a photo with their adopted 5-year-old son, Caleb, Feb. 1, 2010, at Osan Air Base, South Korea. The couple adopted Caleb from Ethiopia . Marselus is the 607th Air and Space Operations Center commander.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The Year of the Air Force Family is an initiative focused on enhancing the support and care provided to those who firmly stand behind our airmen on a daily basis.

Air Force Col. John Marselus, commander of the 607th Air and Space Operations Center, and his wife, Kim, traveled to Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, in January where they picked up their newest son, Caleb, a 5-year-old orphan whom they adopted.

"The adoption process took about two years, but in reality this journey started well over two decades ago," Marselus said. The couple’s trip to Ethiopia opened yet another opportunity to meet face-to-face with one of the many children they had sponsored worldwide for almost three decades.

As a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, the colonel started sponsoring needy children across the globe. The Marselus family was able to provide food, clothing and school supplies for dozens of children over the past 27 years. One of the children they sponsored was an Ethiopian girl named Meseret.

"We first started sponsoring Meseret about a decade ago when she was only 8 years old," Marselus said. "Here was this poor little girl, literally living on the other side of the planet in an environment we couldn't even begin to comprehend, and we were getting these touching letters from her thanking us and telling about the difference our involvement was having in her life."

After 25 years of sponsorship of multiple children, the Marselus family decided it was time to have an even greater impact on a needy child. It was at that point they decided to pursue the option of adoption.

"Sponsoring needy children like Meseret is great, but we were convicted to see if there was a child who needed a family," Marselus said. "We strongly felt that the right thing to do was provide an orphaned little boy or girl the love and nurturing they so desperately deserve."

After contacting an adoption agency and beginning the adoption process, the Marselus family was pleasantly surprised to discover the many programs and benefits the Air Force has in place to support adoptive parents. The National Defense Authorization Act provides for reimbursement of up to $2,000 of expenses per adoption with a maximum of $5,000 reimbursement per year. Additionally, AFI 36-3003, Military Leave Program, allows upward of 21 days of permissive temporary duty for travel associated with qualified adoptions.

"These are exactly the types of benefits needed for airmen who are pursuing adoption," Marselus said. "We are extremely pleased to see this commitment from the Air Force to help anyone who would pursue this option."

While in Ethiopia finalizing the adoption of their new son, the couple met Meseret, the girl they started sponsoring 10 years ago.

"It was an incredible experience getting to finally meet this amazing young lady who has changed our lives in so many ways," the colonel said. "We were able to celebrate her 18th birthday with her and were quite impressed with her and how well she was thriving in such an impoverished environment. Sponsorship had obviously had a positive impact as she recently completed high school and now has her eyes on becoming a doctor."

Reflecting on the whirlwind of emotional and life-changing events over the past few weeks, the Marselus family gives the Air Force great credit for their successful adoption of Caleb.

"Beyond the financial support and permissive TDY time provided by our Air Force, several on-base agencies such as the chapel, Aarman and family readiness center, the military personnel section and medical group have been amazing in helping Caleb transition from being an impoverished orphan into a healthy, cared-for and truly happy Air Force dependent," the colonel said. "Without a doubt traveling to Ethiopia, meeting Meseret and having Caleb become a part of our family was the adventure of a lifetime."

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Stevenson is assigned to the 607th Air and Space Operations Center.)

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