"Today is about taking care of our airmen, our most precious resource. And moving Keesler into the 21st century," said Keesler commander, Gen. Paul Capasso, as he addressed an afternoon crowd at Friday's ground breaking.
Brand new homes, average price $188,000, will replace houses Katrina damaged beyond repair. The new construction will be better prepared for future storms, built some two feet above FEMA advisory elevations.
Ray Mottley is the civil engineer for the Biloxi base.
"We think we're going to be survivable from a flood standpoint, as well as hurricane proofing as far as wind damage, that we build stronger than the homes that we had in the past," he explained.
Keesler's commander praised his team for developing an aggressive building plan to replace what the storm destroyed. It represents the largest military housing project in Air Force history.
"Today we celebrate not only the construction of more than a thousand new homes, but the building of new communities where we live, work and play," said Gen. Capasso.
The $287,000,000 project represents Keesler's commitment to community and helps secure the future of a base that means so much to the coast economy.
"All the casinos combined contribute about a billion dollars to the coast community. Keesler alone contributes over a billion dollars to the coast economy. They're great neighbors to have. We want to keep them happy and we want to keep this base around here for as long as any of us are around," said Congressman Gene Taylor, who told the crowd the project represents America's commitment to our troops.
"And I'll tell you what, there's a lot of excited airmen today that are waiting for that first house," said the commander, moments before he joined others in turning the first shovel of dirt.
The first new house will be finished by next January. The final home will be complete by April of 2010.