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Year of the Family: It's so much more than a motto

In happier times, Tech. Sgt. Shawn Mette, shares a smile with his wife,
Nelia, and children, Sebastian, 9 and Skylar, 5. (Courtesy photo)

In happier times, Tech. Sgt. Shawn Mette, shares a smile with his wife, Nelia, and children, Sebastian, 9 and Skylar, 5. (Courtesy photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- It's easy to throw around mottos like "Be a Good Wingman" and the "Year of the Air Force Family."

What isn't always easy, however, is putting words into action, "walking the talk," as the saying goes.

Fortunately, for Tech. Sgt. (ret.) Shawn Mette and his wife, Nelia, they have a "family" at Patrick Air Force Base who believes in "walking the talk." Sergeant Mette has been battling stomach cancer. Though he is now hospitalized in nearby Melbourne, Fla., he has been living in the same housing area he lived in on active duty, thanks to the housing privatization partners at Patrick Air Force Base. This has meant one less stress on him, his kids, and his wife of more than 10 years.

The stress began for Sergeant Mette, formerly with the 45th Medical Group, and his family, back in 2007, when he was first diagnosed with the disease. They battled it to a virtual draw through 2008, and then they watched in horror together - 'together' is a word his wife uses all the time - as it came roaring back last year, forcing him to be medically retired in the spring of 2009.

The family was faced with a daunting situation because of the retirement. They would have to move because, at the time, retirees were not yet eligible to live in the recently privatized housing. This meant that their two children, Sebastian, 9, and Sklyar, 5, would have to deal with a new environment while their father battled cancer.

Enter HP Communities LLC, the privatized company that now has control over housing in North, Central and South Patrick.

"It's our company's job - and my responsibility - to take care of the families who call Patrick Air Force Base home," said Sophia Reeves, Pinnacle's Community Director for PAFB.

"So we went to work; we had the family moved from a two-story, three-bedroom unit to a single floor, four-bedroom home (at no expense)," she said with a smile. Because Sergeant Mette had difficulty going up and down stairs, this was a welcome move, according to Nelia.

In addition, the company has arranged for free lawn care services from Triple D Grounds for as long as needed, procured free tickets and lodging for a Blue Man's Group performance at Universal Studios, and a caring Pinnacle employee has offered to lend a helping hand to assist the family with any simple chores around the house. On his own time.

One problem solved. Several more to consider.

"Just knowing we had a permanent place to live when our world was crumbling down around us gave us something solid to hold on to," Nelia said. "I feel safe here, the kids love their friends and the neighborhood and the schools are great."

Nelia, however, is not blind to what the future probably holds. She is also aware - and very thankful for the much-needed assistance she and the children have been receiving.

"His mother, Darleen, has been here to help with the kids and share hospital time; that has been a big help," she said.

"And I also want to give thanks to all my friends at the South Patrick Chapel - they have been just great - and to all our neighbors, friends and Airmen from all around the base, especially my husband's squadron at the Med Group," she said, fighting back tears.

Lt. Col. Teresa Skojac, Shawn's former commander at the 45th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, said she remembers him as a dedicated, quiet professional.

"I am honored and proud to have worked with an Airman like Shawn Mette; and I know everyone who knows him feels the same way," she said.

His wife sure feels the same way.

"Shawn is such a good guy, and such a wonderful husband and father. We always do everything together as a family and I know we are the most important thing in the world to him. It hurts so much to think about what the future holds and what 'might-have-been'" she said, this time making no effort to hold back the tears.

But still, she says with a quiet determination, she knows she has to remain strong for their children.

"We made a pact a long time ago, and I have no intention of taking anything back now," she said with quiet determination. "We are getting so much help and support I know we will make it. Together."

Patricia Brempell, Pinnacle's investment manager for the Falcon Group (comprising Patrick, Moody, Little Rock and Hanscom Air Force Bases) may have summed things up better than anyone.

"There are so many days that are covered with reports, deadlines and just plain routine that we forget every once in awhile what the heck we are here for --- today I remember."

Patricia remembered the family, what really matters.

So does Nelia.

Hers and the Air Force one.