Air Force Cadets Work to Complete Habitat Home

TUPELO -- Thursday morning, 10 cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, hustled to make progress on a Tolbert Street home, as a light rain began to fall.

"We've basically put a whole roof on since Monday," said cadet and Michigan native Alex Hutchinson. "Trusses, felt paper. Now it's ready for shingles."

The cadets have elected to spend their spring break building houses. They come from all over the U.S. Two come from Sri Lanka and one from Taiwan.

"This is a new experience," said Sri Lanka native Pankaja Dissanyake, "We build brick houses back home. It's too far -- and expensive -- to go back for spring break. It's been good working."

Dissanyake said he was put into the Academy through a selection process by the U.S. Embassy, and once he receives his degree, he will return to the military in Sri Lanka.

The cadets have also worked to complete a house on Broadway Street in Tupelo, and have lodged at the First United Methodist Church. While they've spent most of their time working, Dissanyake said they have been able to tour the Elvis Birthplace and a few other places around town.

"The hospitality here is great," he said. "It's very similar to home. Everyone says 'hi' to you."

Wesley Partin, Habitat project manager, said that Habitat had demolished the original home completely before starting on the current structure. He estimated it would be completed by the end of May.

"These guys coming in really jump starts us for the year," Partin said. "We average about six projects per year, but we have seven in the works right now. This one will be ready for sheet rock by next Friday."

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker joined the cadets Thursday morning, hammer in hand.

"I think it's great," he said. "I understand these cadets could be home with their families. It's impressive they would come here to spend the week working."

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