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Inspirational Vandenberg Women: Vandenberg captain loses husband, maintains "rock"

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Lee Iacocca, an American businessman known for engineering, was once quoted saying, "The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works is the family."

Capt. Jeannette Sandoval, 381st Training Group inspector general, is testament to that statement. Even though her family was broken, it has remained steady.

In 2011, Steve Sandoval, Capt . Sandoval's husband of 13 years and the father of her five children, died unexpectedly.

"To lose your partner so unexpectedly is absolutely devastating," Sandoval said. "He was an amazing father, always there for our children and it was difficult to picture our family without him there. I just didn't know how it was going to work."

Being a 19-year career Airman, Sandavol faced being an active duty member and a single-parent to five grieving children. She didn't let all the weight of managing her family crisis fall on her shoulders and knew when to ask for help.

"My chain of command was very supportive in the aftermath of my husband's death," Sandavol said. "They helped to coordinate meals for my family and would brought us meals every day for quite some time. Not only was I given the time off that I needed to put everything in order, I was also assigned a family advocate from the 392nd Training Squadron who dealt with all the base stuff for me. He did an amazing job and I'll always be grateful for him."

She also made sure her children had the support they needed to get through their father's death.

"Not only had everybody [in my chain of command] come to my house and made sure we were ok, but so did the 381st Training Group chaplain and representatives from the Vandenberg Airman and Family Readiness Center came [to my house]," Sandoval said. "My children all went to a counselor downtown and so did I to make sure we were functioning well."

Going forward, the hardest task this Airman had was to find balance between family and work and the Air Force was there to help.

"Steve was great at helping me with juggling doing my job well and giving [our kids] a parent at home," Sandavol said. "The Air Force did what they could tohelp during that adjustment period to make things easier for the family to adjust, not just me."

A big part of adjusting as a family was finding ways to remember Steve as a family.

"One way we remember Steve is that every year, on the anniversary of his death, we write messages to him and send them off on balloons," Sandoval said. "I also cook enchiladas on his birthday every year because that was his favorite meal and a tradition we had before he died."

Sandoval said the traditions are a very important balm to the keep the family together.

"It's important to remember to not let holidays and birthdays die -- You can't let your life end just because someone you love dies," she said.

Sandoval's "rock" remained steady together by leaning on each other and their Air Force family.

"You have to take it one day at a time, it's not easy -- it's not something that's going to break you," Sandoval said. "Just remember to reach out for help when you need it and use the resources that are available to you. Also, remember that while someone may be a huge part of your life, they're not your entire life and you have to continue to move forward."