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Deployment brings family together 22 years later

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joyce Tucker, 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron construction site manager, hugs her grandmother, Lolly Pagdanganan, in Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. Tucker recently met her grandparents for the first time in 22 years and is maximizing the time with them here while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Senior Airman Joyce Tucker hugs her grandmother, Lolly Pagdanganan, in Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. Tucker is assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron as a construction site manager. Tucker recently met her grandparents for the first time in 22 years and is maximizing the time with them here while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joyce Tucker, 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron construction site manager, visits with her grandmother, Lolly Pagdanganan, after meeting her grandparents for the first time in 22 years while deployed in Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Senior Airman Joyce Tucker visits with her grandmother, Lolly Pagdanganan, after meeting her grandparents for the first time in 22 years while deployed in Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joyce Tucker, 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron construction site manager, maneuvers a remote control helicopter with the help of her grandfather, Tito Pagdanganan. Tucker and Pagdanganan met for the first time in 22 years during Tucker?s deployment to Southwest Asia, September, 5, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Senior Airman Joyce Tucker maneuvers a remote control helicopter with the help of her grandfather, Tito Pagdanganan. Tucker and Pagdanganan met for the first time in 22 years during Tucker's deployment to Southwest Asia, September, 5, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Lolly Pagdanganan shows Senior Airman Joyce Tucker pictures of her extended family at Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. Tucker met her grandparents for the first time in 22 years while deployed. (U.S.  Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Lolly Pagdanganan shows Senior Airman Joyce Tucker pictures of her extended family at Southwest Asia, September 5, 2012. Tucker met her grandparents for the first time in 22 years while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joyce Tucker, 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron construction site manager, poses for the camera, September 5, 2012, with her extended family that she met for the first time in 22 years while deployed in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

Senior Airman Joyce Tucker poses for the camera, September 5, 2012, with her extended family that she met for the first time in 22 years while deployed in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Before Senior Airman Joyce Tucker arrived at the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron to start her six-month deployment, she had another mission in mind.

For the first time in 22 years, Tucker finally had the opportunity to meet the two members of her extended family she has longed to unite with: her grandparents.

Reaching out to the family was not an easy task for her grandfather, Tito Pagdanganan, who has worked overseas in the oil and gas industry for 32 years. His job responsibilities required constant travel. To keep in touch with the family, everything was done the old-fashioned way -- writing letters.

"It has been almost 40 years since I had communication with her immediate family, and it was only last year when I started an account through Facebook that I was able to find them," said Pagdanganan.

It was social media that helped pave the way for Tucker and Pagdanganan to communicate, but it wasn't until Tucker found out she was deploying that a face-to-face meeting would actually be a reality.

"When I found out I was going to be only a few miles away from them, I knew I would have the opportunity to finally meet them," said 22-year-old Tucker.

After arriving in Southwest Asia, Tucker did not waste any time reaching out to her grandparents. The first thing she did upon arriving in country was to let them know through Facebook she was here.

However, it was not an easy task for Tucker to meet them right away. It took nearly a month for their plans to come to fruition.

"I told my lolo and lola (grandfather and grandmother) that I cannot leave the base because of Ramadan," said the Nevada resident. "Instead, we started talking on the phone."

Once Tucker was authorized to leave the base for a morale trip, she immediately called her grandparents to have them meet her at the local mall. They had a difficult time finding each other in the crowd. They were on the phone giving directions to each other like a human GPS.

"When I finally recognized them, I started running their way. Words could not express the feelings of happiness I had inside," said Tucker.

The joy they shared and looks of fulfillment on their faces were inevitable. According to Tucker, she and her grandparents just couldn't hide the enthusiasm of finally meeting each other.

"When we saw a petite girl running towards us, I knew it was Joyce," says Lolly Pagdanganan. "We could not contain our excitement when we saw her. We were smiling from ear to ear. We finally were meeting our granddaughter."

After the warm embrace, they wasted no time. They found a quiet place at the mall and started catching up -- talking about her family back home, her job in the Air Force and her married life -- filling in lost time.

"I am so impressed and proud of Joyce because she turned out to be a fine young lady who has goals and aspirations in life," added Tito Pagdanganan.

Separated for many years, they did not miss a beat. Everything just fell into place -- shopping, eating, cooking, singing and getting to know each other in person. One of the unique similarities they learned was that civil engineering runs in the family. Tucker is a construction site manager here at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing while her grandfather is a construction division manager for his company.

Tucker said she is humbled and thankful to the military for giving her the opportunity to finally meet her grandparents in person. Although her primary focus during her deployment has been on her Air Force family and it's mission, the unique situation has allowed her to connect with her immediate family.

"This deployment and meeting my grandparents has made a significant impact in my life," said Tucker. "Not only did it allow me to serve my country but it also allowed me to reconnect with my family."


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