Cadets build homes during spring break

03/27/2007 - AUSTIN, Texas (AFNews) -- Dozens of Air Force Academy cadets are giving up their spring break to build homes for the needy this week, during Alternative Spring Break.

Cadets are in Texas and New Mexico this week, giving up their spring breaks to swing hammers and pound nails with Habitat for Humanity.

Twenty of these cadets set to work on a two-story brick home due for repair and refurbishing in a westside Austin neighborhood on Monday morning.

"First, we're going to do some deconstruction today and tear down the deck," said Cadet 3rd Class Dan Mitchell of Cadet Squadron 11. "On Tuesday, we'll be doing some handyman-home repair work inside and begin construction work on Thursday and Friday."

Breaking into teams, the cadets made short work of the dilapidated deck in the morning hours, with some cadets tearing removing the deck board by board. Other cadets spent their time denailing the better pieces of the newly-liberated boards, so it can be salvaged for reuse by Habitat.

"We may be doing some hard work here, but it's really relaxing getting away from the academics," said Cadet Mitchell, who is currently taking 20 semester hours and majoring in Systems Engineering Information Systems.

He's also got three graded reviews and one paper due next week when classes resume at the Academy, so the chance to use a five-foot crowbar instead of calculus and classbooks was something he welcomed.

Alternative Spring Break is a program sponsored by the Academy's Center for Character Development. Cadets performed more than 39,000 hours of community service projects during the 2005-2006 academic year on thousands of projects, but Alternative Spring Break is one of the center's capstone programs. It gives cadets a paid but no-frills opportunity to go somewhere new during spring break to work with Habitat for Humanity, and put deeds behind the words "service before self."

"I worked with Habitat for Humanity back home and liked what they do, "said Cadet 4th Class Sean Long, from Arlington, Va., who is on his first visit to Texas.

For one cadet, Alternative Spring Break is also a chance to help our his hometown, as well as practice some of the skills he's spent years honing at the Academy.

"I'm from Austin," declared Cadet 1st Class Jace McCown, while leaning on a crowbar and clad in an Academy T-shirt and cowboy hat. "It's my home and I've been looking to do Alternative Spring Break here for a couple of years. But it's always been someplace else other than Austin. But not this year. This year it's a chance to help out my local community."

Cadet McCown is also the cadet-in-charge for the Austin contingent, overseeing the welfare and well-being of his 19 fellow cadets for the next week.

"It's a good experience and also fun to be in charge of a small group," he said. "Plus, I get more leadership opportunities out of this than I have in my squadron a lot of times," he added.

Cadets are also at work this week with Habitat for Humanity projects in San Antonio, Texas; College Station, Texas, Port Arthur, Texas, and Los Lunas, N.M.

In a similar but separate project, the Academy's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has three faculty members and nine cadets at work this week on the Navajo Reservation, near Gallup, N.M. This spring break alternative is a byproduct of the department's relationship with the Southwest Indian Foundation. Each summer for the past nine years, the department has built traditional eight-sided Navajo homes for the reservation, totaling 19 homes.

For the second spring break in a row, cadets and faculty are also at work on the reservation. They are repairing a damaged home at the reservation's Twin Lakes chapter.

Look for more on these alternative spring break projects in the April 6 edition of the Academy Spirit.