The story behind a smile

Story and photo by Senior Airman Brittany N. Perry
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The alarm goes off and your day begins. After brushing your teeth, washing your face, and putting your uniform on, there’s only one thing left to do, drop the kids off, but where?

Being so far away from family members and friends, childcare can be hard to come by. That’s where the providers at the child development centers come in; keeping service member’s minds at ease and allowing them to work peacefully knowing their child is in good hands.

Without this peace of mind, the mission of the Air Force could be affected. Members would not be fully able to give their energy and attention if they were constantly concerned about childcare.

Military parents put their trust in these trained professionals, believing they will make the best choices when it comes to their children.

“I believe CDC caregivers are extremely valuable to military parents,” said Tech. Sgt. Latonia Booze, U.S. Air Forces in Europe management analyst. “As a military parent overseas, I do not have as many choices for daycare as being stateside; so I heavily rely on the CDC caregivers to make the right decisions when it comes to my child’s care.”

Although the center’s providers are seen almost daily, oftentimes many military parents don’t have the extra time to get to know them on a personal level.
One of those unsung heroes is Melba Lee, 86th Force Support Squadron CDC lead program assistant.

“She is a loving person, like a mother to all of us here, she reminds me of my mom actually” said Mrs. Lee’s co-worker, Jaime Parker, 86th FSS CDC program assistant.
Mrs. Lee, providing childcare services for nearly 18 years, has grandchildren back in the states. Working for the CDC allows her to make up for lost time through the children she’s able to care for.

“I have a lot of grandbabies and I enjoy taking care of them all,” Mrs. Lee said.
In 1987 William Lee III, Mrs. Lee’s husband, volunteered to pastor a church in Hahn, Germany after the previous pastor, an active duty service member, moved to a new assignment back in the states. This is when Mr. and Mrs. Lee and their three children began their new lives in Germany.

Once settled in, her journey of jobs began. From doing custodial work to logistical support through Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Mrs. Lee has done it all. But for more than a decade, children have been her main focus.

“Because of my age I wasn’t going to go back to school, but then I realized you are never too old to learn,” Mrs. Lee said. “I am now working on getting my associates in child care, which if I wanted to go further, will allow me to open my own center in the future.”

Today, she works at the Vogelweh CDC, taking care of infants 6 weeks to 12 months old.

“I consider myself a teacher to infants, I teach them how to talk, to laugh, to smile and to have fun,” Mrs. Lee said.

According to Mrs. Lee, the biggest misconception about providers is that they are considered to just be baby sitters when in fact they are trained professionals.

“I remember when I first started working at the CDC I was amazed to see an infant paint. We can actually teach them to do that,” Mrs. Lee said. “If people could know what we really do in the program, maybe they would see how much positive impact we have on the children. We are professionals.”

Between the CDCs on Ramstein and Vogelweh, there are 24 providers caring for more than 60 infants on a daily basis.

So next time you rush in the CDC to quickly drop off or pick up your child, consider taking an extra second to get to know the smiling faces who take care of your children throughout the day. You may be surprised to hear a story similar to Mrs. Lee’s.