Spring break all about 'service before self'|
by Melinda Vidal
U.S. Air Force Academy Admissions Marketing and Media
3/31/2006 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFPN) -- “Service Before Self,” one of the Air Force’s core values, is on the minds of 135 U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who are working during their alternative spring break in areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
The project is part of the Cadet Service Learning program which centers on community involvement.
“CSL takes this core value from theoretical concepts of the classroom and a training environment,” said Maj. Eric Ecklund, of the academy’s Center for Character Development. “It allows cadets to put it to the test in real situations, meeting the needs of a community.”
Every cadet on the project has given up their nine-day-long spring vacation to participate.
“I chose this trip because of the opportunity to help those in need and come back feeling good about what I have done,” said Cadet 4th Class Jennifer Johnson of Muskegon, Mich.
“The cadets are running the show,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Bob Leivers of the 34th Training Wing and part of the support team accompanying the cadets. “They have their command teams in place, they are working together. We’re just here if they need us.”
The cadets arrived in Biloxi, Miss., on March 25 aboard a KC-10 Extender from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They were greeted by Maj. Gen. Michael C. Gould. General Gould briefed them about the people affected by Hurricane Katrina and the impact their one-week stay would make on the rebuilding efforts in this area. His appreciation for what the students were embarking on spoke volumes about the importance of their mission.
Driving along the coast through Biloxi, Miss., on the way to a warehouse, the volunteers were shocked by the destruction that remained in the wake of Katrina.
Cadet 1st Class Stephen Mitchell of St. Petersburg, Fla., described it as a “war zone.” The shells of homes torn open by the hurricane lay in pieces. Debris was everywhere and personal items still hung from trees.
“Water and wind couldn’t have caused this much devastation, could it?” Cadet Mitchell asked.
The group divided across various sites in the area March 27. Most of the projects were at Yankie Stadium, home base for the Salvation Army’s relief efforts. Twisted metal seats were dismantled and removed from the stadium. Platforms were built for more volunteer housing to shelter the staff handling the relief efforts.
One project was the renovation of an elementary school gymnasium for children on Biloxi's east side. Once completed, the gym will allow the city to offer after-school programs and summer camps.
A few cadets accompanied relief workers on house calls, ensuring people were looked after. In Hattiesburg, Miss., and Covington, La., two groups worked with Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes.
Also in Hattiesburg, 20 cadets, including sisters Cadet 4th Class Lisa Moe and Cadet 2nd Class Heather Moe of Colorado Springs, were housed at Camp Shelby. They came to spend the week together, pounding nails in a home they were helping build.
“We thought it would be great to do something together, to help others,” Cadet Lisa Moe said.
Fifty miles west in Covington, 14 other cadets were building homes.
“I feel good about being here,” said Cadet 3rd Class Raeanna Elms, from Longmont, Colo. “These people need us.”