On this day, eight years ago . . .

Susanna and I were married at Washington Street United Methodist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, eight years ago on this date–July 24. We first met exactly two years earlier on a group Fulbright trip to South Korea for educators in South Carolina. We really believe that we love each other today more than ever. We wish that everyone can experience the closeness, friendship, and happiness that we’ve enjoyed.

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Marcel has his wings!

Marcel Melo at his graduation from flight school; copyright Samuel Giordano, 2012

Marcel (top right) with his classmates from the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Aviator Course Fort Rucker; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012

Story by Susanna Melo

Exactly a month ago today, on March 8th to be exact, Samuel Giordano (Marcel’s uncle and godfather from Brazil who came specifically for the graduation) and I had the privilege of pinning Marcel’s wings on to his handsome, dark blue uniform. Marcel now has his Helicopter Commercial License, which he worked extremely hard to achieve over the past year and a half!

You would be amazed at the amount of information learned over such a short period of time if you personally saw the heavy handbooks of hundreds of pages these aviators have to study. You would also be amazed if you attempted to fly in a simulator helicopter, as Sam and I experienced, for there are hundreds of knobs, gears and other electronic features one has to master in order to fly.

This is not all. These graduating aviators went through one of the toughest feats of their training: SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) School. Thrown in the wilderness for 2-3 weeks with no water or food, these aviators had to survive a conflict/war simulation.  Another challenge this graduating class of men and women underwent was to exit a helicopter submerged under water while being blindfolded. I cannot imagine the physical duress these soldiers had to endure in order to achieve their wings, but also the courage and persistence to overcome such difficult and stressful moments of their studies and training.

Marcel’s graduation was so full of emotion! Smiles, laughter and tears building up in my eyes were just some of these emotions. The graduation took place at Fort Rucker’s U.S. Army Aviation Center. At first, the ceremony was quite solemn, as one would expect it to be; therefore, I could not understand when the officer in front of me turned around to chat. He was trying to tell Sam and me that we should be joyful and “make noise” for this graduating class. I was still unsure until he went to the podium. While speaking into the microphone, he said he had addressed the parents of an aviator (at this point I did not hesitate; “Melo,” I screamed from the audience and the crowd began to laugh) encouraging us to cheer for our graduates and be more enthusiastic. This officer was the Commanding General/Commandant MG Anthony G. Crutchfield who addresses the President of the United States directly! So having his final “blessing,” the crowd went from silent to exuberant!

Permit me now to brag about my son. Marcel joined the National Guard in 2007 much against my wishes, but he had my support thereafter, even though, I must admit, it has been a little difficult for me, especially when he was deployed to Iraq for a year. He has risen up to every challenge, but most importantly, he underwent very rigorous training to fulfill his dream to fly. Marcel will not stop here, though. He will soon achieve his Airframe and Power Plant License, which will allow him to work mechanically on any aircraft. His next accomplishment will be to conclude his degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is rated number one in aviation and aerospace college education.

Presently Marcel is working in Columbia, but during the summer, he will be going to another state to undergo further training before being deployed overseas once again. At that point in time, Marcel will become Chief Warrant Officer 2! Upon returning from overseas, Marcel has set further goals for himself, and knowing my son, he will certainly achieve them.

What else can a mother ask for? Professional fulfillment, health, and happiness for one’s child. Marcel has it all, and I have had the privilege to see all of his stages of development and to be a part of it all. I just wish his father had, too, for I know Cecil would have been just as proud as I am of our son!

Some of Marcel Melo’s friends from flight school; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012

Samuel Giordano, Marcel Melo, and Susanna Melo at Fort Rucker

Bad weather = good photographs

Copyright Chris Austin, 2012

This is one of the best photos of any city skyline. It shows Charlotte, North Carolina, during a recent hailstorm. To shoot spectacular photographs such as this one, you need to be aware of the possibilities of taking images during bad weather. Heavy fog—grab your camera. Heavy snowfall—take pictures. Severe thunderstorm—look for that rainbow. Hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis—other people’s misfortunes could be your picture-taking opportunity, but be careful. You also need to know where to go if bad weather arrives so you can get there quickly. Lucky photos rarely occur; good planning leads to those “lucky” photos.

Chris Austin’s photo was post processed using HDR (High Dynamic Range), a technique that brings out more contrast in photos. If you have Adobe Photoshop or a similar photo-editing software program, you can also use HDR. Step one is to take the same photo at different exposure levels. Step two is to use software to merge the two photos. Recent iPhones include an HDR feature with their cameras. If you click here, you’ll find a 7.5-minute video tutorial. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsaS5vgzlek. Below are a couple of my “bad weather” photographs.

London Tower bridge right after a rainstorm; copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

San Marino in heavy fog/low cloud cover; copyright Keith Kenney, 2005.

Rainbow in Verona, Italy; copyright Keith Kenney, 2005