SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
Like most kids, the sight of a fighter jet in the sky was enough to get his heart racing. However, he isn’t like most kids. He was just 4 days old when he had his first open-heart surgery, along with two more operations by the age of 2.
For Jason Kendall, his heart skipped a beat when he had the opportunity to tour Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Oct. 19, 2018.
Jason was born with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome,a range of right-sided congenital heart defects in which the right-sided structures are underdeveloped or not formed, according to the SSM Health Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute. When this occurs, the right side of the heart cannot send enough blood to the lungs.
This condition didn’t stop Jason from enjoying his day, however.
“He’s very much a normal little boy,” said Caroline Kendall, Jason’s mother. “He loves playing, running around, being crazy.”
Jason began his visit by touring the 335th Fighter Squadron, where he received a custom-fit flight suit along with a few gadgets that every pilot needs to include a compass, flashlight and a pocket mirror to use for signaling aircraft when lost. Along with the gear, the 335th FS gave Jason a framed photo of an F-15E Strike Eagle with pilots’ signatures and a 335th FS coin.
Then, Jason was taken to the 4th Training Squadron where he and his father, John Kendall, flew a simulated F-15E Strike Eagle. Jason practiced taking off, aerial maneuvers and firing weapons at various targets.
After the simulation flight, Jason was ready to be up close and personal with a Strike Eagle.
Pilots from the 335th FS took Jason to the flightline and to a hangar housing an F-15E. There, Jason was able to climb into the cockpit as well as see what types of weapons the Strike Eagle is capable of utilizing.
Later, Jason stopped by the base fire department where he met Sparky, the fire department’s mascot. Jason was also shown the equipment a firefighter would use in situations they might face. Then, Jason rode in a fire truck and manned the vehicle’s water hose, spraying water at traffic cones that represented a fire.
Jason concluded his tour with a visit to the air traffic control tower to see F-15E Strikes Eagles on the runway and get a behind-the-scenes look at how the airfield is managed.
As the sun set on his trip, the pilot for a day departed wearing his flight suit along with a goodie-bag containing a framed photo of an F-15E with 335th FS pilots’ signatures and a squadron coin.