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EGLIN AFB, Fla -- Being part of a large family is not that unusual, but the Maldonado siblings take being part of a larger family -- the Air Force family -- to new heights.
That family got a chance to travel from around the world for Senior Master Sgt. David Maldonado's retirement from Det. 1, 552nd Air Control Squadron June 7. It's the first time the siblings, seven of whom are active-duty Air Force, have been in uniform and in one place at the same time since leaving home.
"This means the world to me," David said. "I am so proud of each and every one of my brothers and sisters. Their presence here to celebrate my retirement is just 'icing on the cake.' I couldn't ask for a more joyous way to culminate my 25-year career."
The seven Maldonado children joined the Air Force for the opportunities it afforded them. It gave them a chance to serve their country while earning an education. The oldest, Chief Master Sgt. John Maldonado, remembers how it all began.
"Dave and I were two of three siblings born to our parents, Juan Maldonado and Judith Ortiz in New York City; our sister Denise never joined the military," said the chief who is stationed in Aviano AB, Italy. "We moved to Puerto Rico in 1981, and after our mom passed away in 1989, our father remarried Sandra Rosario."
Juan, an Army paratrooper, and Sandra had six children together, bringing the total number of Maldonado siblings to nine.
"Dave and I originally joined the Puerto Rico Air National Guard in the mid-1980's," John said. "Dave convinced me we should do this full-time, since we liked it so much. We joined the active duty Air Force together in January 1989, both in the communications-electronics career field. As our brothers and sisters grew up, they not only looked up to us as role models, but they were also touched emotionally by the events of 9/11. Since our roots go back to New York City, they decided they also wanted to join the Air Force."
Besides John and David, the Air Force family includes Staff Sgt. Emmanuel (Keesler AFB, Miss.), Senior Airmen Karla (Lucas) (Holloman, AFB, N.M.), and Juan (Kirtland AFB, N.M.), Airmen 1st Class Marcos (Camp Darby, Italy) and Ernesto (Barksdale AFB, La.). The youngest sister and Ernesto's twin, Sophy, is in the process of enlisting.
About 20 years separates the oldest three from the six younger children.
"We always had the company of each other to entertain us and simply pass the time," said Marcos, a munitions system technician.
According to Karla, an air traffic controller, the six youngest siblings were homeschooled for about eight years.
"God bless our mother, I don't know how she did it," she said laughing. "We've been rivals, best friends, worst nightmares and tricksters to each other, but our mother always taught us the importance of our unity -- and to honor and love, and we are still as close as we were in those days."
The elder Maldonado passed away several years ago, but Karla remembers how he said her older brothers were an inspiration to all of them.
"My father had always shown great pride in what John and David did. He kept us updated on everything they were doing and the impact it had in the world; we always had them in our minds as great examples of the Air Force life," she said.
Ernesto, a food service specialist, said his family was the inspiration that led him to an Air Force career when he enlisted in October 2009. He, too, is thinking of making the Air Force a career because "it's been an amazing experience so far."
"I wanted to be able to share the same joy, passion and interest they have for their jobs and the Air Force, as well as the many opportunities and benefits it had to offer," he said.
Emmanuel, a dental technician, had a similar experience when contemplating the military service as a career.
"My siblings were very supportive of my going to college instead of joining (the Air Force), but I joined because I admired how successful and professional they were, so I was definitely influenced and inspired by them," he said.
John and David's careers crossed paths early on when the brothers were stationed at Hurlburt Field and Eglin AFB from 1989 to 1992. They were reunited again in 1998 when that were stationed together in the 603rd Air Control Squadron, Aviano AB, Italy. The younger Airmen haven't had the chance to serve together yet, so gathering as a family for David's retirement, while in uniform, is a special event not just for them but for their mother.
"It's such a happy day to have all my children together again," Sandra smiled.
While the family patriarch wasn't there physically, the family knows he was there in spirit.
"Dad would be extremely proud," David said. "After John and I entered the Air Force, our Dad saw how well we were doing. He dreamed of all of his children entering the Air Force and would have loved to have seen us all in uniform today."