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Proof of life

The long-missing birth certificate of Medford resident Vanessa Driskell, who has spent the past four years trying to obtain the document to prove her U.S. citizenship, has finally been located.

It was found in a warehouse in Illinois where the U.S. Air Force had stored it and other documents after it evacuated Clark Air Base in the Philippines when Mount Pinatubo erupted there on June 15, 1991. Driskell was born on the base, where her father was stationed at the time.

Finding the document means that Driskell, 21, can now obtain a driver's license, cash a check without a hassle and apply for a passport so she can live her dream of traveling abroad.

"It's going to be a very special Thanksgiving, the most special I have ever had," said the 2007 graduate of Rogue River High School.

"This makes me feel ecstatic — I'm very relieved," she said.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Tuesday morning that Driskell will have her certificate soon. "The paperwork she needs to put her life back together will be mailed to us this week — Vanessa should have it middle to end of next week," said Tom Towslee, Wyden's communications director in Oregon.

Since the Mail Tribune ran an article about Driskell's plight on Feb. 10, Wyden's staff has been working with various agencies to try to find the missing document. "The documents are coming to us from the National Archives in St. Louis," he said. "We had contacted them about this case. To their credit, they began an extensive search. They found it in a box in a warehouse in Illinois that was part of the base closure file."

Towslee, who didn't know where the warehouse was located in Illinois, credited Wyden staffer Chris Maier with pursuing the case until it was solved. Maier had worked with several agencies, he said.

"This thing has been sitting there collecting dust all this time," he said, adding the staff at the National Archives was just as determined to find the document as Wyden's crew.

"It makes us feel good," he said. "You always want to be able to solve people's problems. This was not just case work. It was a personal victory for us as well as for her."

Driskell was born on Sept. 9, 1989, on Clark Air Base in the Philippines to Kevin Driskell and Socorra Gonzalez, both U.S. citizens married to each other. Her father was a military police officer on the base.

When the volcano erupted in the late spring of 1991, it killed 800 people and left an estimated 100,000 homeless. The 18,000 U.S. military personnel and their families at the base were transported to the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay. Most, including her parents, would return to the states.

None of her three siblings, all born in the states while their father was in the service, even encountered any documentation problems. Their parents, who met while in high school in Happy Camp, Calif, have since divorced. He lives in the Rogue River area; their mother in Chico, Calif.

However, Vanessa Driskell said her citizenship was never an issue until she turned 16 and wanted to get her driver's license. She lacked the identification needed by the state to process a license, she said.

Over the next few years, she contacted federal officials from immigration to the State Department to find the documentation, all to no avail.

Now, thanks to Wyden's office and the National Archives staff, her problem is solved. In addition to her birth certificate, officials found the application made by her parents for a consular record for a birth abroad, she said.

"Now I'm going to get my ID and start a bank account," she said. "I'm also going to learn how to drive and get a driver's license.

"I never learned how because I couldn't get a license," she added. "My parents want to teach me and so do my brothers."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

After more than four years, Vanessa Driskell finally has located her birth certificate. - Julia Moore