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Air Force family's "Extreme" home revealed

  • Published
  • By Ron Fry
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
Amid a hearty "welcome home" shout-out from fellow Airmen, James Terpenning fought back tears as he and his family saw their new, custom-built home for the first time Aug. 6.

Mr. Terpenning, a civilian computer specialist at nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, received the house after being selected by producers of the popular ABC-TV series "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The Emmy award winning reality television series provides home renovations for deserving families.

Mr. Terpenning, who is confined to a wheelchair, said the experience was a dream come true.

"We have a new life now with a nice new home," he said.

Fellow workers at the base nominated Mr. Terpenning for the show and he was chosen July 30. Two days later, Air Force volunteers pitched in to begin demolition of the family's former home. In just five days, a new house was built complete with a backyard playground and a freshly-sod lawn.

Air Force volunteers worked throughout the week, doing everything from helping lay drainage pipes to wading through ankle-deep mud during a driving rain to assist with landscaping.

Many of those volunteers were on hand Aug. 6 to greet the Terpenning family. Among them were Lt. Gen Jack Hudson, commander of Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, and retired Col. Sue Busler, who kicked off the effort to nominate the family for the show.

"They definitely define the term 'Wingman'," said Mr. Terpenning who wore a shirt emblazoned with an eagle and the stars and stripes.

"This experience showed that the Air Force takes care of its own," he declared. "I am so proud to be part of the Air Force."

After the Terpenning family toured its new home with the show's host, Ty Pennington, they watched from their backyard as a hulking C-5 Galaxy from Wright-Patterson AFB rumbled overhead. It reminded Mr. Terpenning of his first experience with the Air Force some 34 years ago.

As a young orphan, he was airlifted from Vietnam as part of the Air Force's Operation Babylift. He was among an estimated 2,500 children flown to safety in the final days of the Vietnam War. He suffered from polio as a youth and was adopted by an Ohio family.

"The Air Force saved my life once and it stepped up to help my family again," he said.

As work on their new home began, the Terpennings were whisked off to Florida for a vacation that was paid for by the show's producers. They returned in a black stretch limousine to find the familiar "Extreme Makeover" bus parked in front of their house. As a crowd of thousands of neighbors, building contractors and volunteers chanted "move that bus," Mr. Terpenning, his wife, Shannon, their four children and his wheelchair-bound brother watched as the show's big bus pulled away to reveal the new, country-style house.

After the initial shock passed, Mr. Terpenning wheeled along the edge of the crowd high-fiving co-workers and other volunteers as the show's many cameramen followed his every move.

The episode featuring the Terpennings is scheduled to air this fall.

"The Air Force and Department of Defense approved participation in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition because it offered the unique opportunity to showcase Airmen supporting a worthy humanitarian effort," said Capt. Bryon McGarry, deputy director of the Air Force Entertainment Office in Los Angeles, Calif. "Entertainment media provides the Air Force very real opportunities to build awareness, educate and inform the American public about its Airmen, and this hugely popular show served as a vehicle to do just that on a significant stage."