HomeNewsFeatures

A family to call her own

Oleksandra Valley, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley from the 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, cautiously lets go of her mother's hand while trying to walk at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on May 6, 2014. Since being adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage, Oleksandra has thrived, learning to walk and feed herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley from the 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, cautiously lets go of her mother's hand while trying to walk at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on May 6, 2014. Since being adopted from a Ukrainian orphanage, Oleksandra has thrived, learning to walk and feed herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, revels in being passed from person to person after arriving at Boise Airport in Boise, Idaho. This was Oleksandra's first time meeting the friends of the Valley family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, revels in being passed from person to person after arriving at Boise Airport in Boise, Idaho. This was Oleksandra's first time meeting the friends of the Valley family. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley cradles his new daughter, Oleksandra, after greeting her at the Boise Airport, Boise, Idaho, on Jan. 23, 2014. Despite not seeing each other for several weeks, Oleksandra immediately appeared to be at home in her new father's arms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley cradles his new daughter, Oleksandra, after greeting her at the Boise Airport, Boise, Idaho, on Jan. 23, 2014. Despite not seeing each other for several weeks, Oleksandra immediately appeared to be at home in her new father's arms. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley kisses Oleksandra after helping her put her coat on at a restaurant in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley kisses Oleksandra after helping her put her coat on at a restaurant in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, lifts up her hat after it was playfully pulled down over her face at a restaurant in Mountain Home, Idaho. Affectionately called "Sandie," Oleksandra's smile spreads to almost anyone around her. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, lifts up her hat after it was playfully pulled down over her face at a restaurant in Mountain Home, Idaho. Affectionately called "Sandie," Oleksandra's smile spreads to almost anyone around her. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, makes the sign language gesture for "more," indicating she wants more food, at the Valley residence in Mountain Home, Idaho. In a week, she went from being spoon-fed at a Ukrainian orphanage to communicating her desire for more food through sign language and beginning to feed herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, makes the sign language gesture for "more," indicating she wants more food, at the Valley residence in Mountain Home, Idaho. In a week, she went from being spoon-fed at a Ukrainian orphanage to communicating her desire for more food through sign language and beginning to feed herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley plays with his children at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. His twin boys, Wolfgang and Jaeger, enjoy roughhousing with their father whenever they can. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley plays with his children at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. His twin boys, Wolfgang and Jaeger, enjoy roughhousing with their father whenever they can. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

The Valley twins, Wolfgang and Jaeger, lie down while watching a TV show at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

The Valley twins, Wolfgang and Jaeger, lie down while watching a TV show at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley and Master Sgt. Ernie Valley prepare supper while their daughter, Oleksandra, plays nearby at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. Jamie and Ernie work together to share the workload of raising their children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley and Master Sgt. Ernie Valley prepare supper while their daughter, Oleksandra, plays nearby at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. Jamie and Ernie work together to share the workload of raising their children. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley (right) and one of the family dogs, Jersey, look at each other inquisitively at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 10 of 20

Oleksandra Valley (right) and one of the family dogs, Jersey, look at each other inquisitively at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley lays her daughter, Oleksandra, down to sleep at their home in Mountain Home, Idaho. Jamie and her husband, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, had a room prepared for Oleksandra before they brought her home from a Ukrainian orphanage in January. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 11 of 20

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley lays her daughter, Oleksandra, down to sleep at their home in Mountain Home, Idaho. Jamie and her husband, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, had a room prepared for Oleksandra before they brought her home from a Ukrainian orphanage in January. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, 2, giggles as her father, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, plays with her at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Oleksandra, affectionately called "Sandie," loves to play with and be held by anyone she meets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 12 of 20

Oleksandra Valley, 2, giggles as her father, Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, plays with her at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Oleksandra, affectionately called "Sandie," loves to play with and be held by anyone she meets. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley raises her arms for attention as her photo is taken at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Mark Tschampl, a long-time friend of the Valleys, and his wife, Capt. Lauren Tschampl, threw a welcome home party for Oleksandra. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 13 of 20

Oleksandra Valley raises her arms for attention as her photo is taken at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Mark Tschampl, a long-time friend of the Valleys, and his wife, Capt. Lauren Tschampl, threw a welcome home party for Oleksandra. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley talks with his daughter, Jewel, at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Jewel is a daughter from Ernie's previous marriage, but he maintains a strong bond with her despite the geographic distance between them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 14 of 20

Master Sgt. Ernie Valley talks with his daughter, Jewel, at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Jewel is a daughter from Ernie's previous marriage, but he maintains a strong bond with her despite the geographic distance between them. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Capt. Lauren Tschampl holds Oleksandra Valley at Tschampl's home in Boise, Idaho. Lauren and her husband, Mark, expressed that they view Oleksandra's adopted parents, Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley and Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, as their role models for what makes good parents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 15 of 20

Capt. Lauren Tschampl holds Oleksandra Valley at Tschampl's home in Boise, Idaho. Lauren and her husband, Mark, expressed that they view Oleksandra's adopted parents, Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley and Master Sgt. Ernie Valley, as their role models for what makes good parents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Jewel Valley comforts her sister, Oleksandra, at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Just like many toddlers, Oleksandra still doesn't like riding in her car seat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 16 of 20

Jewel Valley comforts her sister, Oleksandra, at a friend's house in Boise, Idaho. Just like many toddlers, Oleksandra still doesn't like riding in her car seat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley browses new family photos while her husband Master Sgt. Ernie Valley prepares supper at their home in Mountain Home, Idaho. The family had new photos taken while Ernie's daughter Jewel was visiting, so they had everyone in the photo, including their twin boys and newly adopted daughter, Oleksandra. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 17 of 20

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley browses new family photos while her husband Master Sgt. Ernie Valley prepares supper at their home in Mountain Home, Idaho. The family had new photos taken while Ernie's daughter Jewel was visiting, so they had everyone in the photo, including their twin boys and newly adopted daughter, Oleksandra. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Oleksandra Valley, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley from the 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, smiles as the winds of the high plains at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, hit her face on May 6, 2014. Friends of the family talk about how happy "Sandie" has been since arriving at her new home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 18 of 20

Oleksandra Valley, daughter of Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley from the 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, smiles as the winds of the high plains at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, hit her face on May 6, 2014. Friends of the family talk about how happy "Sandie" has been since arriving at her new home. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

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/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 19 of 20

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/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley, 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, poses for a photo with her newly adopted daughter Oleksandra at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on May 6, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
PHOTO DETAILS  /   DOWNLOAD HI-RES 20 of 20

Tech. Sgt. Jamie Meadows-Valley, 366th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, poses for a photo with her newly adopted daughter Oleksandra at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, on May 6, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

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 the exit.

It was Jamie with her newly adopted daughter, Sandie. The sight of her two sons and husband brought tears to Jamie's eyes.

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.

Mark 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 and daddies."

Oleksandra Valley, 2, lifts up her hat after it was playfully pulled down over her face at a restaurant in Mountain Home, Idaho. Affectionately called 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."

Then, the 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 from Russia.

"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 stick.'"

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.

Jamie 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.

"They 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.
Master Sgt. Ernie Valley plays with his children at their house in Mountain Home, Idaho. His twin boys, Wolfgang and Jaeger, enjoy roughhousing with their father whenever they can. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)
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 communicate.

"She doesn't seem to mind that we speak English," Jamie said. "She seems to understand what we're saying, regardless."

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.

"Because of 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.

The couple received more than just support, but also genuine curiosity and enthusiasm toward the adoption.

"I 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.]"

The 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 footsteps.

"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."