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Airman reunites with family at Colombian air show

Senior Airman Mario Munive, a crew chief with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., stands with his uncle, Rick Munive, who traveled 14 hours by bus to see his nephew for the first time in six years.  Senior Airman Munive participated in the RIO NEGRO air and trade show assisting the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Nathan D. Broshear)

Senior Airman Mario Munive, a crew chief with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., stands with his uncle, Rick Munive, who traveled 14 hours by bus to see his nephew for the first time in six years. Senior Airman Munive participated in the RIO NEGRO air and trade show assisting the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Nathan D. Broshear)

MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA (AFPN) -- Air Forces Southern air shows in Central, South America and the Caribbean are always opportunities for Airmen to connect with local communities and showcase American aviation technology. But for one Airman, the opportunity to be a part of the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team's efforts in Colombia became a much personal endeavor.

Senior Airman Mario Munive, a crew chief with the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., isn't a member of the F-15 demonstration team, but because of the urgent need for additional maintainers and Spanish language interpreters during the RIO NEGRO air and trade show, he was selected to accompany the group to the airport outside Medellín, Colombia.

An exotic trip for some -- but for Airman Munive, the deployment was more of a homecoming. His mother was born in Colombia where they lived for six years. Today, almost all of his family still resides in the town of Baranquilla, along the northern coast of Colombia.

"Two months ago I found out I would be coming to Colombia so I called my family in Baranquilla," said Airman Munive. "They were thrilled to hear I would be a part of the largest air show here and represent our family."

Airman Munive's family was so excited, one uncle took a 14 hour bus trip, followed by two more additional transfers to get to the RIO NEGRO Colombian Air Force base.

"I was told the airshow was at the military base," explained Rick Munive, Airman Munive's uncle. The RIO NEGRO air and trade show (meaning "Black River" in English), is named for a nearby military installation sharing runway space with the international airport -- the actual air show venue. When Mr. Munive told Colombian Air Force personnel his story, they rushed to the U.S. Air Force contingent to reunite the family.

Airman Munive was returning from visiting the ALDEAS SOS orphanage with his coworkers when he found out his uncle, a relative so close he describes him as a father figure, was minutes away from the flightline.

Uncle Rick helped his sister to raise Airman Munive and two other children along with his own, blending the family of five together as siblings.

"I used to take Mario to air shows as a child, we both share a love for aviation and airplanes," said Mr. Munive. "It's been six years since I've seen him in person....I would have traveled for as long as it took to get to see him at RIO NEGRO."

The last time Airman Munive was with his uncle, he was graduating from high school in Houston, Tex. Once Mr. Munive retired to Colombia to be close to the rest of their family, Airman Munive's career in the Air Force began -- along with deployments, training and the growing responsibilities of adulthood. When Mr. Munive embraced his nephew on the tarmac of RIO NEGRO, it was the first time he'd ever seen him in an Air Force uniform.

"Mario used to be shy, focusing on school work, yet very goal-minded," said Mr. Munive. "Then he enlisted in the Air Force and it has made him more outgoing, confident and focused."

Following their reunion, Mr. Munive was treated to front row seats for aircraft maintenance operations.

"I showed my uncle the jet up close and let him watch as our team prepared for the demonstrations," said Airman Munive. "Then we carried out post flight inspections, refueling and met with the people of Colombia."

Mr. Munive smiled as children and families at the air and trade show reacted with glee to find a fellow Colombian standing near the mighty F-15 Eagle in a U.S. Air Force uniform. 

"The kids look at him like he's a real life hero," said Mr. Munive, as he watched a local family's response to his nephew's handshakes and welcoming smile. "For me, that's very true -- Mario is not just part the Air Force protecting the freedoms of Americans...in a way, I feel he's serving to protect the people of the United States and the people of Colombia."

The local example has been overwhelmingly welcomed -- hundreds of people have taken photos with Airman Munive and asked for his "autographia" (or 'autograph' in English) on photo-cards featuring the F-15. The message Airman Munive is often repeating while visiting with attendees, area orphanages or hosting up-close tours for area children is pointed. "If you want something, you can work hard and achieve it...I told them they can be a member of the Colombian Air Force, the U.S. Air Force or whatever profession they desire through hard work and study," said Airman Munive.

After the air show activities, Airman Munive and his uncle have dedicated hours to 'catching-up' and laughing together over dinners and day trips to local towns. 

"I'm thankful to God and the Air Force for the time we've had together here," emphasized Mr. Munive. "Every day, I've told Mario how much I love and care for him. I hope people understand this: you only have so much time in this life with your loved ones...cherish every moment."

Authors note: Airman Munive would like to thank the 33rd Fighter Wing commander and the F-15 West Coast Demonstration Team for including him in the RIO NEGRO contingent. Throughout our interviews and airshow activities Airman Munive expressed, "My deepest thanks ... this would not have been possible without their support ... I'm extremely grateful to the Eglin Team for enabling this moment in my family history."

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