08/06/07 — 333rd 'Lancers' host kids at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base

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333rd 'Lancers' host kids at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 6, 2007 1:45 PM

For Connor Denning, touching an F-15E Strike Eagle was not quite enough to label it "awesome."

So after the 9-year-old ran his fingers across the jet's body, he tried to find something that was.

"How many bombs can it carry?" he asked.

His friend Alex Hood did not know the answer -- yet.

"Let's see," the 10-year-old said, walking under the Eagle's belly. "One, two ... 22."

"Whoa," Connor replied.

The boys were two of more than 30 children from the Raleigh area who visited Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Thursday as part of a summer camp field trip.

Hosted by the 333rd "Lancers," they were given the chance to look into the cockpit of an F-15E and check out the base's new firehouse.

Capt. Tapan Sen said leading the group helped renew his love for high-speed flight.

"I think part of it is just seeing how cool they think it is," the weapons system officer said. "Sometimes, when you do it for a living, that feeling gets lost."

Connor, now "amazed" by the Strike Eagle, said he wants to pilot one someday.

"It can hold a lot of bombs and it has machine guns -- sweet," he said after the tour. "And there's a yellow button that opens the cockpit and shoots them up if they're in trouble."

Sen said it was good to see young people get enthused by the aircraft.

"Being exposed to it makes them realize they can do it," he said.

Lancers pilot, Capt. Jason Houston agreed.

"I was definitely interested in aviation as a kid," he said. "This is probably going to pique their interest a lot."

But the day was about more than a few children who might join the Air Force when they are older.

It was also an opportunity for members of the Garner-based Sonshine Learning Center to meet their heroes.

Houston said it feels good knowing that young people look up to those who defend freedom.

"I would rather it be me than a professional athlete," he said. "The defense of our nation is so important, and to have kids look up to people who do that, it's great."

Victoria Baker said the men and women she met at Seymour are more than heroes.

"They are so awesome," the 9-year-old said. "I just saw a big jet, the one they fly."