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Celebrating hurricane-free 2006

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- I've added a new calendar date to my list of holidays -- Nov. 30.

A holiday is a special day set aside for celebrating or giving thanks, and I think the official end of the hurricane season rises to that level.

Nov. 30, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the first hurricane season after the Katrina disaster of 2005 came and went without a single storm threatening the area.

With visual reminders and personal memories of Katrina fresh in everyone's mind, nobody rested easy this year. We stocked our hurricane kits, developed evacuation plans and avidly watched The Weather Channel whenever a tropical disturbance was announced. Thankfully, our preparations were unnecessary and another year of breathing room was welcome -- and needed -- to aid recovery efforts.

The quiet hurricane season enabled many of those directly affected by Katrina to start rebuilding their homes and lives. Everywhere you look you see signs of recovery. Debris no longer piles up along the streets. Destroyed buildings have been razed. In many areas, new construction for homes and businesses is well under way.

Returning this area to its former southern charm is going to take still more time, but with hard work and more storm-free hurricane seasons, it will happen.

On Beach Boulevard, I drive by miles and miles of empty lots. However, surrounded by so much emptiness, I also see a brand-new, sparkling, colorful playground volunteers built for the children in the area. Such volunteers have given hundreds of hours to the cause of revitalizing the coast.

For me, that playground represents the spirit of the Gulf Coast and the people who live here. Despite the devastation, we look to the future and work towards making it better, one day at a time and one project at a time.

So, the end of the 2006 hurricane season gives us another six months to restore and rebuild. That's a great reason to celebrate and give thanks.