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Keesler NCO Academy class helps rebuild storm-damaged homes

Tech. Sgt. Susanna Voorhies, from the 91st Operations Support Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., rolls a coat of paint on in a house in Biloxi, Miss. Thirty students from the Keesler Air Force Base NCO Academy volunteered more than 250 hours to help rebuild three homes in Biloxi that were damaged by Katrina in 2005.

Tech. Sgt. Susanna Voorhies, from the 91st Operations Support Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., rolls a coat of paint on in a house in Biloxi, Miss. Thirty students from the Keesler Air Force Base NCO Academy volunteered more than 250 hours to help rebuild three homes in Biloxi that were damaged by Katrina in 2005.

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- At least three Biloxi, Miss., families will remember the students from Keesler's NCO Academy for the rest of their lives.

Thirty students from the academy volunteered more than 250 hours to help rebuild three homes in Biloxi that were damaged by Katrina in 2005.

Tech. Sgt. Susanna Voorhies, from the 91st Operations Support Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., knew she wanted to do something while she was here for school, but didn't know for sure until she saw a newscast during one of her first nights here.

"There were six houses in the local area that needed to be worked on, according to the broadcast," she said. "The story also mentioned that Habitat for Humanity, the group here to help rebuild some of the damaged homes, needed volunteers. Every NCO Academy class has a class project they must work on, so we decided to volunteer for ours."

Habitat for Humanity is an international, non-governmental and non-profit organization devoted to building and renovating housing. Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 200,000 houses around the world.

Tech. Sgt. Robert Pirkl, from the 28th Maintenance Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., also wanted to do something while he was here for the NCO Academy.

"I saw the images of what had happened, but I figured the footage had been from months ago and everything was better," Sergeant Pirkl said. "I was amazed when I arrived in Mississippi; it looked like the storm had just hit about a week ago."

Sergeant Voorhies said she called the Habitat for Humanity office about volunteering and they were able to give her information.

"I mentioned that we would like to do what we could, and they told me someone from Virginia was headed to Biloxi to help out with houses," she said. "It worked out perfectly."

The students worked on three different houses in Biloxi on three different Saturdays.

"One of the houses had minimal damage; all we needed to do was install floor boards," Sergeant Pirkl said. "The other two really needed work. We had to put up wallboard, then paint the second house The third house we had to rip out and then re-install 12 new windows."

Sergeant Voorhies said the work was intense, and that the people really appreciated their efforts.

"The toughest part of the job was not having air conditioning in the houses," she said. "But the families were real nice. They fed us lunch, gave us water and kept us company the whole time."

The sergeants' class is the first to graduate from the Keesler NCO Academy since July 2005, after Hurricane Katrina forced the school to close. Since Hurricane Katrina, students have attended the academy at Maxwell AFB, Ala.

Sergeant Pirkl said that the volunteer experience has made him realize that he could lend a hand more often.

"People everywhere need a little help," he said. "I think I'll do some volunteer work when I return to Ellsworth."

Sergeant Voorhies said she wants to keep up with the three houses and their progress.

"I asked Brent Tucker, the person from Habitat for Humanity, to send me e-mails with pictures of the houses," she said. "I have also left the contact information for the next NCO Academy class. I'm stationed with one of the incoming students for the next class and let her know what we did so that they can continue with what we started."