11/11/09 — SJAFB pilot, dad stops by Northwest Elementary

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SJAFB pilot, dad stops by Northwest Elementary

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 11, 2009 1:46 PM

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4th Fighter Wing Lt. Col. Jason Brenneman answers questions from the second-grade class of Kim Thomas at Northwest Elementary School in Pikeville Tuesday as part of Veterans Day activities at the school.

Kim Thomas' second-grade classroom at Northwest Elementary School took on the appearance of a military fashion show Tuesday morning as a special visitor came equipped with a stack of helmets, hats and other uniform accessories.

Lt. Colonel Jason Brenneman, a pilot with the 334th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, was among those visiting classes as part of a Veterans Day celebration at the school.

Instead of giving a lecture and pointing to the patches and badges on his uniform, though, he decided to include the students in his presentation.

"Who wants to try on my combat edge vest? The coat I wear when I fly? This uniform jacket that belonged to my wife when she was in the service?" he asked with each article of clothing he produced.

To the boys and girls in the class, it didn't much matter what they got, just as long as they could be a part of the festivities.

And Brenneman complied. As the numbers dwindled down, he produced hats and scarves for the remaining students to try on.

Describing the difference between helmets -- one for daytime, another for night -- and the significance of each item, the guest was impressed with his audience.

"You all are very polite and following orders," he said, commending them for being "good airmen."

Then he opened up the floor for questions.

"Don't you get hot in those long sleeves?" asked Abby Lee.

"It's hot but when you are flying an airplane there's a super good air conditioner," he replied.

"Can you breathe if you're over 10,000 feet in the air?" another asked.

Brenneman said he had a special mask that allowed him to breathe "all the way up to 50,000 feet high."

A special connection brought him to the modular classroom -- daughter Alyssa, one of Ms. Thomas' students.

"Dad, what does it feel like to go upside down?" was her question.

"Flying an airplane going upside down is even more fun than the funnest roller coaster," he told her.

Carson Waddell asked, "What is like to be in the real war?"

"It's very scary and it's very important because we need to make sure that our country is free," he said. "We train for a long time. We train very well and we're very good at what we do."

"Can you dodge a bullet?" Carson said.

"It's like the best game of dodgeball," Brenneman said. "Once I'm in the air I can do all sorts of crazy stuff to get away from the bullets (with my plane)."

All branches of the military have "very good preparedness" when it comes to taking care of their own, he added.

"It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work but it's a lot of fun (being in the military). It's very rewarding once you get into the Air Force."

Isaiah Mallard wanted to know about what the pilot might see when he flew farther distances.

"Are there any aliens?" he asked.

"I fly a lot of different places and I have looked but I haven't seen any," Brenneman told him.

"That's because they're all in here," Ms. Thomas joked, before asking why he had chosen the military as a career.

"When I was your age," he told the class," I just wanted to be in the military. When I got to high school I decided I would like to be in the Air Force. And when I got to college, I decided I would like to be a pilot.

"It's a public service, something you can do to help out the country. It's a good thing to do."

Brenneman has been in the Air Force for 17 years, he said. And while it takes a lot of effort and training, he said it has been rewarding.

His daughter presented him with a gift of appreciation from the students, which included a "Northwest Rocks" T-shirt and thank you notes.

Before packing up his things, he challenged the children to acknowledge others who have served their country through the military.

"When you go home, over the next couple days, if your parents or grandparents or friends are in the military, say, 'Thank you for what you do to take care of us,'" he said.